The Primaries Project: There's Gotta Be A Better System...Right?
Welcome to the third and final installment of the primaries project as series about how we nominate presidential candidates last week we looked at the real world world consequences of our primary system and the week before that we examined how it came to be. If you haven't heard either of those episodes yet you may WanNa check them out first this week. We're looking at how the system could be different here. We go roll. Call Jefferson Ascend Hancock items. John Henry Patrick Henry President of the Convention George in Washington. The floor is your that's Timothy. Bats are Youtuber in high school history teacher in New York taking us back to the summer of seventeen eighty seven even during a more than three month long debate known today as the constitutional convention the time has to review and saw all constitution. Hey Hey the founders argued over how the United States would be governed. They disagreed over matters of representation including how enslaved people would be counted. How how many representatives each state would get and some delegates refused to sign without a bill of rights? What's needed that isn't he'll well? The requested specific protections Shinzo individual freedom of speech religion assembly saved them in the notes and we might add a bill of rights later even with all this drawn out debate and the addition of a bill of rights. There were many things the framers left out entirely for example parties when the founders wrote the constitution they didn't believe in parties. That's Larry Sabato Director of the University of Virginia Center for politics in fact the founders. They didn't believe in popular politics and widespread voting and of course since the framers didn't believe in formalizing parties. They had no no reason to design a system for parties to choose candidates to run in general elections commonly known as primaries many constitutions. Have that you an article about the operation of politics. But of course the United States doesn't without a primary system laid out in the constitution. The parties have been left to design whatever process they want and they have I and since the process isn't in the constitution that means the parties themselves could also change it pretty easily. That is if they thought it needed improving proving over the last two episodes we talked about how accidental our primary system is and how flawed in this episode. We're wondering if other places do it better and come to think of it. What is better even mean? Yeah well this is a very good question. Gideon Rahat professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The most common way is to argue argue that the most democratic system as the most participatory system. Our system is very participatory. We believe that we have a democratic process. We're democracy so we should have a say and we don't really get too deep into the into the weeds about how that democracy works as long as people are voting. Then that's democracy democracy Hans Knoll the political scientist who helped develop the party decides theory most people quite understandably Don't spend all of their time thinking about the implications of different democratic institutions. They just WANNA see. Democracy happening and primaries are great to see democracy happening knowles. Point is that a democracy isn't well-functioning just because people are voting as we heard in the last episode although we have a very open system in the United States it it doesn't necessarily lead to a public consensus or good governance. The design of the system is key. I would say that the Marquis is is about Checks and balances about the involvement of different institutions with different level of inclusiveness. And this is also part art of the American way of thinking about democracy. This is the way that your founding fathers has established your to your very complicated regime and Rajavi has laid out a rubric to help judge how Democratic a candidate selection system is according to Raha. There are four key components the first is inclusiveness or how opened the process. It is to the general public. The second is competition. How hard do politicians have to work to be nominated for re-nominated dominated? The third is responsiveness. Has the system chosen. Politicians who govern according to the will of the people and the fourth and final is representativeness has the system resulted in a governing body that reflects the population of a country tree to understand what all this means in action. We're going to explore how different countries around the world nominate their candidates. Let's begin our world tour in Norway is expected to put your head illegal. After the blast the thing Alpha I young illiberal eastern in Norway Party leaders choose which candidates will run so the part is controlled all aspects. That's ruined Carlson. A professor at the University of Oslo the the voters have no say they just have to vote for the list that the party has decided upon so that makes it quite exclusive. That gets Mahat's first component. For Judging how Democratic Democrat candidate selection system is who takes part probably the most important one is the inclusiveness or exclusiveness in this of this electoral. This electorate is the group of people that chooses a party's leaders for example in the US. It's the people who vote in primaries earnings and caucuses the electorate is the people who choose between those candidates in the general election and in some parties the selector is very very very very exclusive. It's the party leader that selects candidates for parliament. Okay in Norway the selector is about `bout as exclusive as it gets in the US it's very inclusive and all of this effects. How candidates behave the more inclusive selector? selector art is the more individualistic player. The candidate with and the more exclusive electorate be the more he or she would be a partisan players show. The candidates in Norway do not run personality. Driven campaigns. Do not focus that much on themselves. They said that at the most important thing for my campaign is to get focused on the party in the. US campaigns are more candidates centric and intra-party conflict can get messy see and personal and minutes later it was game on Julio Castro in the middle of a healthcare discussion taking veiled swipe at Joe Biden. Going there on on the question of Biden's forgetting what you said in Norway on on the other hand there's no incentives for for for candidates to campaign against shoulder it's important to note though that countries like Norway have many parties so while there's little fighting within parties if voters are politicians don't like the direction of one party they have numerous other options to choose from in the US us if you don't like the direction of one party for the most part you only have one other option. Norway is an extreme example but there are also candidate selection selection systems that are more exclusive than the US while not being quite as exclusive as Norway election countering sorting counting adjudicating sitting on votes in the Republic of Ireland. The final decision is taken by a vote of the Party members. That's Theresa reading a political scientist at University College Cork in Norway. It's the party leaders who are selecting the candidates while in Ireland. It's generally open to all Party members but party membership requires choirs paying fees attending meetings and working for the party. In other words these people are clearly invested in. The party's goals patchy membership is actually she quite low in Ireland. It's one of the lowest in Europe. In fact only about three percent of the country belongs to a party so about one hundred forty five thousand people in a country of almost five million. And what does this mean for the people who are nominated. It Means Party selectors. The members of political parties play a really crucial crucial role in shaping the choices that the arrest of the electorate are faced with when they go in and get their ballot paper so they really do a pre screening process who says almost every democracy on the planet has a more exclusive candid selection system than the US. But there's one country that may be even more open up about a third of Argentina has a national primary primary system. It's an acronym fossil which stands for pre. Mattias I've yet simultaneously. Nobody got thirty. s that's Peter Balas. I am the share. You're of the Politics International Affairs Department at Wake Forest University and the Associate Director of the Latin American. Latino studies program here Argentina's peso system means jeans obligatory open simultaneous primaries which is to say that every single party Argentina has to do primaries as for every single level of office in every Argentine has to vote in those primaries. So this is an extreme form arm of democratization as the Argentines pose it but at the same time it has disadvantages and those those disadvantages can be similar to some of the ones we see in the United States. There certainly is the kind of personalism factionalism populism from the bottom to the top of the Argentine political system that we've talked about as a more generalized problem of primary systems in the world and of course the more inclusive this electorate when it comes to a very large select tourists. It's very hard for challenges to compete unless they have a lot of money of course and that brings us to the next component for judging a candidate selection system which is competition. Competition is key because without it you don't really have a democracy. There's no decision to make. I don't think people realize how significant candidate selection is. It's significant because many times the selector is really the elector meaning if the general election is not competitive who who the candidate is is the only decision that matters. That's not often the case in presidential elections in the US but it is often the case in congressional national elections. Like if you think of the United States and a good election ten percent of our seats are actually competitive. That means that the bodies Susan the candidates they're really choosing the representatives. It may seem like open. Primaries would be the most competitive system Kim since anyone can run and the public gets to vote. But that's not necessarily the case primaries give advantage to incumbents the people who have a lot of money and incumbents usually have a lot of money convincing the public to vote for you in a primary can be very expensive putting a premium on on name recognition and ability to fundraise that can decrease the world of possible contenders and decrease competition. Actually many sometimes the would be more competition in the more solicitous electorates. It's hard for political scientists to measure. How competitive a candidate selection selection system truly is but one way to do it is by looking at how often non incumbents win away slowly Lee? She asked what say Olympic in a study of Israeli parties were hot found. That closed systems are actually more competitive than primaries areas when party leaders make this electorate both more non incumbents win and more candidates are able to compete the next dimension of were Hans Rubric. Rubric is responsiveness. which gets that? What politicians do once? They're in office. So in terms of responsiveness we asked the question Christian okay so the candidate was selected and then elected and we of course assume that he or she they they want to be reselected reelected again. So who are. They're monsters to whom do are they responsive to who are are they accountable in the US. The primary electorate represents a very small and often skewed segment of the American public so politicians are accountable all to that group of people but they're not only responsive to those voters they're also responsive to their donors and the media and other darling of the tech world is his people to judge. We found donations to his campaign from network. CEO Reed Hastings Pinterest CEO closed systems. Politicians are first and foremost responsive sponsor to their parties. Goals again really on the Irish system. Individual members of parliament very rarely actually go against her vote against Their their parties and parties tend to take discipline fairly seriously and very often will suspend or even expel members of parliament's for voting against the party. There isn't a strong incentive to pander to outside interests because it's a small group of Party members that will determine whether you get nominated or renominated in thinking about responsiveness. It's important to keep in mind. The campaign finance laws are a major component in determining determining how parties prioritize policies in Ireland party finances so restricted at its. It's not really useful to think about parties as responding to the preferences references of Of donors parties are guided by their popularity. In the Irish context a candidate's nomination prospects are in the hands of the party. And the party's responsiveness. To monied. Interests is limited through strict campaign finance laws so very often the the parties will seek to enhance their popularity with the floating voter with with The largest percentage of the electors ad that they possibly can at last. We've you've reached the final stage of Rihanna four point rubric representativeness this one is pretty straightforward. Does the system select people who who are. Representatives of the larger populations demographics take gender for example when the parties are involved there is more representation at least in terms of gender. Can I be prime minister in another absolutely Donka Longa the late is not in the US even with open primaries the selectric after it does not necessarily choose people who are like them. Here's Jonathan Hopkin. A professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics. If we look at WHO's in Congress aggress who gets elected president there. Generally man generally wiped generally wealthy rights. I think there's much more of a kind of premium on personal wealth and fitting into a very mainstream establishment kind of image in the US their interest groups in both parties that are focused on trying to diversify their candidates in terms of gender and to we'll lesser extent race. Here's representative. I think we need to encourage nontraditional candidates to run for office. Which is why I focus? Specifically on recruiting women on Recruiting Hispanic candidates recruiting African Americans in democracy is where parties are more hands on in choosing candidates. They can ensure diversity in a way. American parties can't good evening for weeks. We've watched politicians slugging it out together tonight. Last we hear the voters verdict today. Tell us who's one. Britain is one example of this hands on approach in nineteen ninety-seven. Tony Blair of the Labor Party wanted to have Many any more women in the British parliament. So what he did is in the districts in which he didn't have any incumbents they ran all women shortlists meaning that four or six women. Candidates competed for the candidacy of the Labor Party. Not In the electoral district that is they didn't allow men to compete only women and this way They made sure that women would be selected and then elected in Europe. I think there's much more likelihood that you can make it political legal career if you're a woman if you're not for wealthy background if you have no particular financial resources of your own in the same study of Israeli parties we mentioned earlier were hot also found the exclusive systems result in more women being nominated than inclusive ones in nineteen sixty eight. When Democratic acquatic activists began the process of changing how we nominate candidates in America? They were focused primarily on how inclusive our primary system. mm-hmm is. But that's just one dimension of a well functioning democracy and when you judge our system by things like responsiveness competition you were representativeness. Doesn't get great marks so at the end of each interview we did for this project. We asked ask the experts we spoke with if you could create a candidate selection system in the United States from scratch. What would it look like? And let's begin with Gideon Rod who prefers a multi step process. I came to the conclusion that the most democratic system would actually actually be a system that would allow different. selector ought to take part in candidate selection that is I would allow the smaller a body of the party to screen the candidates and then I will Allow wider audiences like party members or even party supporters to select from the shortlist. That Artie has screened. That's somewhat similar to the system that Elaine K.. Mark the author of the Book Primary Politics proposed it would be a hybrid between the party leaders and the voters odor's in the perfect system. I would have the caucuses the Democratic Caucus the Republican caucus in the congress all they deliver votes of confidence in the presidential candidates party leaders would ultimately endorse three candidates. You know I would just have some have three choices and say yes senator so and so and governor so and so and former defense secretary so and so they all have have the temperament and the background to be president of the United States. But those votes of confidence wouldn't be binding I would then let the voters go ahead and vote in primaries An elect delegates to the conventions. But they would have been forewarned that some people people the their peers think could be good presidents and other people their peers think could not be the idea of a middle ground between an open and closed system was popular among the academics. We talked to actually I the super delegates. Are I think a good voice in the party and Dan to restrict their voice bore probably not the best decision that's Barbara nor indoor professor in the School of Government and public policy. Let's see at the University of Arizona. Super delegates can give sort of they expert opinion and that goes along with the popular opinion that you get through the primary Mary so giving both kind of elements Some influences important. Another proposal for trying to achieve balanced was something along the lines of going back to the old pre nineteen sixty eight system. Here's Hans and all I would try to create a party convention where instead of the delegates at that convention being instructed directed by voters how they're supposed to vote instead say let's let's create a representative democracy where you get a diverse set of people who represent all the different factions within the Party and and then let them negotiate and choose a party leader fivethirtyeight contributor and Marquette University political scientist Julia Azaari is also on board with relying more heavily on a convention process but she stressed it would only work. If voters became more involved with their parties it would sort of involve a total revolution of political society. In some way in order for a convention to work like a representative democracy convention. Delegates would have to know what issues voters is care about and be accountable to those voters. I think one of the nuts. We haven't cracked is like how to get people interested in party politics when there's no whiskey at the polls. The the machine era had a lot of selective benefits for people to be involved in party politics. If you can get a job you can get you know if you needed some kind of material assistance. You could get that without getting more people involved in the party's it's possible that only the most extreme views in the party would be represented at this hypothetical convention. The the goal of a convention would be to find a consensus within a party. We actually put out a call to listeners of this very podcast to share their thoughts for remaking the primary system and they had a different idea about how to find a consensus. I think ranked choice voting from top to bottom should be mandatory. I think it would be good to go for Arinc choice method instead best decision. Making process is a ranked voting system. This way the most number of people are happy. Eh and the compromise is never the lowest common denominator we heard from a lot of ranked voting fans and for those who aren't familiar. Ranked choice. Voting is where you rank rank your preferences if no candidate has a majority of first choice votes the one with the least gets booted and those candidates votes go to the voters second choice that continues until someone has a majority okay back to the experts. Caitlyn Jewett political science professor at Virginia Tech also saw a convention system as appealing but with a big asterisk. I view that system as actually quite reasonable slow but I don't think it would ever fly with the American people. I think we are now. In era where the American people expect to the have a direct say in who becomes the presidential nominees but I very much recognized that the parties are private organizations and can do this however they want. I don't need to solicit The opinions of the American people short of a radical change Jewett supported getting rid of the the current sequential calendar. I would say that I would probably lean towards eliminating caucuses and establishing primaries in all states and probably lean towards a national primary day so that all states are voting at once that there is an unequal representation or influence wants across states. Sorry also wanted to get rid of the calendar but wasn't quite for a national primary. The counters bothered me for a long time. I think probably the most practical solution is the sort of regional rotating primary. Where the region's vote together? And do you switch off. Who goes who goes I or something along those lines? Or if the region's vote together you have groups of states that cross different regions. We did hear another argument for a national primary. Very though from Kenneth Baer a former Obama administration official and political analyst. I think the national primary could be a reform. That could really get out of this this this sense of Of the individual states that could have more of a say than others he said it seemed like a reform that could plausibly happen in America. Unlike perhaps some of the others in the current context where we are right. Now I think this is a reform not a radical upheaval and reform that potentially could lead to more participation into the system maybe rejuvenate some interest in health and our democracy Wayne Stagger a political science professor from Depaul University City doesn't think national primaries are the way to go. Yeah it would be more democratic. But what you're GONNA do with the national primary like that and at a potential run off is you're going to advantage vantage the candidates who are nationally known right off the front foreign and who can raise money and so lessening on candidates aren't going to have much of a chance even in that system mm-hmm and lastly Peter Savelli from wake forest. University suggested starting point is to standardize our system nationally. If I had to design the system from on the bottom up the first thing I would do is establish something that does not exist in the United States but that exists in almost every other democracy that I've seen in in the world which is some sort of federal electoral commission. We technically have a federal election commission. But it doesn't set election law nationally like it does in other countries. We do that fifty times in the United States right. It eats state level so my colleagues in Latin America will call me and say Hey Peter. I'm doing the project I'm primaries. Can you send me the primaries law. I'm like well get ready for fifty files because as we got fifty different laws. This is really unusual unusual in the world and kind of frankly a little bit crazy over the coming months. The process we've been discussing in this series series is going to play out before is the voices of a small number of unrepresentative. Voters will be empowered. You're from I o on the day the first voting in the campaign. The Iowa caucuses the biggest day so far in presidential politics entire states may be ignored. Mitt Romney Walk Away with more than half of the Super Tuesday delegates. He says it's time for his opponents to stand down. Cash and personality will likely upstage page governing know-how and at the end of it. All there may not be any clear consensus at all. Vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you. We don't know exactly how the Democrats nominating process will play out. But what we do now is that it doesn't have to be this way a We're at a moment in American history when dissatisfaction with the political process is rampant and ideas about how to change changed the system particularly from the left about a well-designed nominating process. Isn't a silver bullet. But it's a key component of a functioning winning democracy and as you heard at the beginning of this episode. How America chooses its candidates easing in the constitution? If the parties wanted wanted to change it they could just do it. So why don't they the the system as it works now. It would be very hard to change it because people are thinking that white participation is necessarily more democratic. I think they've been cowed K.. Mark is referring to the parties parties. I think they've been cowed by their activists and I think there's been a sort of absence of courage on the part of the parties. You can be hard to get used. Used to the idea that there's more to democracy than just voting You need to have really a very. How would I say that there? Should it'd be a crisis a real crisis. In order to promote a reform of this system says it would take a dramatic event to get the parties. You decide to change and K.. Mark says that moment may be approaching. Remember change happens in party politics mostly as a result of failure so we now have a president who could fail L. Dramatically in two thousand twenty and take down a lot of senators and governors and state houses with him a big. If that's the case then I suspect that that the reborn Republican party because there will be a rebirth of the party will take a long look at how it got itself itself a Donald Trump and may decide to start the reform process and as with the Democrats in one thousand nine hundred sixty eight when they kind of fell apart. Okay when one party starts to reform process it inevitably has consequences for the other party. Whether that moment is in twenty twenty or years from now there will almost certainly again come a time when the parties conclude that something has gone wrong that they aren't choosing the best candidates they could that it's time to change the system but as we learned over the course of this series. A A new system doesn't necessarily mean a better system to get that. The parties need to be thoughtful. Who are they listening to? And why and how are they aggregating all those voices after all no less is at stake. Then who will ovalles to lead the free The primaries project was reported by me. Gaylon Droop and produced by Jake Jake. Arlo did the engineering and scoring. Our editor was Chadwick. Matlin and my sweet Lord did the fact checking Tony Chow. Was Our technical director a special thanks to Timothy Bats for letting US use his constitutional convention Vidya and thanks to you listeners for listening to the primaries project if you enjoyed it tell your friends to check it out as well also if you WANNA learn more about how our primary system works head over to the fivethirtyeight Youtube Channel You can get in touch by emailing US at podcast at five thirty eight DOT com. You can also of course tweeted us with questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show leave us a rating or review in the Apple. podcasts store or again tell someone about us thanks for listening and we'll see you soon the.