A couple of weeks ago, Jennifer Rubin had an unsettling column in the Washington Post.
She was considering a recommendation issued by the nonpartisan Unite America Institute. The organization had been analyzing the “root causes, effects, and potential solutions to political polarization and partisanship,” and determined that fixing our political system requires eliminating partisan primaries. Instead, the Institute favors nonpartisan contests decided by “immediate runoffs,” sometimes called ranked-choice voting.
This recommendation rankled, because it echoed an argument my husband has made for years–one with which I’ve largely disagreed. He points to the (well-documented) fact that primary election voters–right or left– are far more ideological than general election voters, and that the slates of candidates we used to get, chosen by those men in smoke-filled rooms, tended to be far more reasonable and appealing to the broad middle, or to the less doctrinaire voters.
I would respond to his position with a defense of “more democracy” represented by an additional electoral choice. I would also point out that primary voters were likely more ideological because they were more interested in/ informed about the political process; and I’d argue that what we need to do is engage and educate more people, not eliminate an election.
The Unite America Institute agrees with my husband.
“Voters who participate in primary elections are often unrepresentative of both their own party, and especially the electorate as a whole, producing similarly unrepresentative outcomes in the candidates they elect,” the report argues. “New polling data from Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, for example, found that the Republican primary electorate that voted for challenger Lauren Boebert over incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton was nearly twice as likely (60%) to identify as ‘very conservative’ compared to general election voters (25%).”
Since so few people vote in partisan primaries, the election outcomes for Congress are essentially decided by the most ideological voters that dominate these contests. “Though turnout in the 2020 general election shattered records at 67%, a supermajority of Congress had already been elected in the primaries,” the report found. “As our analysis found, only 10% of eligible Americans cast votes that mattered in partisan primaries that effectively decided 83% of seats.”
The Institute favors nonpartisan primaries and general election ranked-choice voting. These mechanisms have gained wide support by scholars seeking to address polarization.
“Compromise is politically dangerous, so candidates appeal to their bases,” Larry Diamond argues in a symposium for Politico. “General election voters can’t vote for a third alternative without wasting their vote on a ‘spoiler.’
I must (grudgingly) concede that the argument is persuasive. My husband wins this round.
If that wasn’t annoying enough, a blog post by Paul Ogden, expanding on a comment he made to a previous post here, did further damage to my pro-democracy assumptions.
I have applauded the growth of small-dollar political donations, which the internet makes possible. Such fundraising, I have fondly believed, erodes the influence of the well-heeled political donors who have previously been able to command the attention and obedience of political figures they supported.
After all, what candidate is going to be influenced by my twenty dollar contribution? And on the “pro-democracy” side of the ledger, people who send ten or twenty bucks to a candidate are demonstrably more interested in the campaign, more likely to vote, follow policy arguments, etc. It’s a win-win!
Paul argues otherwise–convincingly.
The big money for Republican officials today is in small donor donations, not corporate contributions. Republican elected officials like Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Senators Ted Cruz and and Josh Hawley are examples of GOP elected officials who raise huge sums of money off of small, individual contributions.
If you would have told me that there would come a day in politics in which elected members of Congress could eschew hosting big fundraising events attended mostly by corporate donors in favor of raising small donations from individuals, mostly online, I would have applauded the change. The lack of corporate contributions means these elected officials can now act in a way that is in the people’s best interests rather than the interests of their big corporate donors.Or so I thought.
That supposed “good government” change to fundraising practices has turned ugly. For elected officials to get a plethora of small donations, they have to draw attention to themselves. The best way to do that is to act as crazy as possible, say outrageous stuff, and get as much time on Fox News, NewsMax and other conservative media outfits as possible.
Damn damn damn. He’s right too.
I need a drink…..