Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why our primary system rules

Since my professional desire is to become a university professor, I suppose I will soon be paid to come up with counter-intuitive political observations. In case any tenured faculty read this blog - here's one such observation in advance.

The great benefit of the United States' primary-caucus system, as it now stands, is that it enfranchises and empowers large numbers of citizens who are made into near-permanent electoral minorities in November by the structure of the Electoral College. On Election Day, South Carolina's Democrats could uniformly vote for bell hooks (heh) and it wouldn't matter at all; the Republican nominee would almost certainly prevail. Likewise, New York's Republicans could all vote for Barney Frank, only to watch the Democratic nominee win.

But in a 50-state primary-caucus system, every state's preferences matter (mindful of population, of course) and not just the preferences of a relative handful of swing states. South Carolina's Democrats, or New York's Republicans, become potent political forces who have a meaningful impact on the selection of a nominee. Isn't this good for democracy compared to a national or regional super-primary? To borrow from Robert Dahl, it increases contestation (there are 100 distinct contests), inclusiveness (regional candidates and favorite sons are free to run; most modern contested major-party primaries have had at least a half-dozen candidates), and information (retail politics matters relatively more than mass-media saturation blitzes). Think about it.

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