Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Thoughts on the Democratic Primary

I think I'm starting to figure out how to articulate what frustrates me (and possibly others) about the US primary system. I know which party platform is most similar to my preferences in general. But the policies each party puts forward is (de facto) determined almost exclusively by the presidential candidate chosen in the primaries every 4 years. The decision of which candidate to run in the general is a strategic one, but it's put to a pseudo-vote whose outcome we have no reason to believe would correspond to the best outcome of that strategic decision.

For me it's the Democratic party, of course. The policy positions of the party have been determined by (or possibly reflected in) Obama for the last 8 years, more or less. Now it's a new election year and my desired outcome is that the winner of the primary satisfy two conditions: i) be as close as possible to my policy preferences ii) have a reasonably high chance of getting elected. (There are other less important ones like 'is not a horrible human like John Edwards' but stay with me.)
Now, those are extremely difficult things to balance just for me. Sanders is *probably* closer to my preferences, though I think the most significant differences between he and Clinton are rhetorical. The consensus is that Sanders would be less likely to win the general election. How much less likely? Under what conditions? Will that still be true if he wins the primary for a major party? How reliable is that consensus? Who knows. My point is that the decision is chiefly one of strategy and not an easy one at that. I would need to spend much more time studying Political Science and related areas to feel reasonably sure about the decision just for me. Now, think about making that same decision for the entire nebulous group of 'people who identify with the Democratic Party'.

The process we use is a Rube-Goldberg machine designed to give (certain) people the sense that they have some say in this strategic decision while keeping much of the control in the hands of party elites. It seems to me that party elites are *likely* to be better at making this strategic decision but how much so (if at all), I'm not sure. And the contraption we call the primaries has a lot of problems, i.e. small white states that do not represent the country have the earliest and most significant say in the outcome.

It's also worth noting that other countries do this entirely differently. In a parliamentary system, it's more important that each party have a relatively stable platform. And in the better systems, voters are rarely put in a situation where there are no party options that closely represent their preferences (in bad ones like Canada and the UK, voters often have to make the sorts of strategic decisions we're familiar with in the US). So in most wealthy foreign countries, it seems like the party (often just those elected to parliament, iirc) decide on the platform and party leadership and that system works exceedingly well.

So, I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that there's *yet another* reason I prefer a parliament-style system of government to the US presidential system. And that my feelings about the Democratic primary are complicated (I probably sit closer to Sanders but probably would prefer for Clinton to win).

(I posted this elsewhere using my old—but still in use—name. Hopefully that doesn't bite me in the ass.)

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