Primary results highlight party power

David Bordelon

Now that primary season is over and our two presumptive presidential candidates have been chosen, it is time to examine the results. The primaries acted as either an election process where voters chose who they wanted, or a nomination process where voters could only nominally choose who the party gave them. The difference between these two options is key— elective processes give the power to the people, while nominative processes leave power to the parties, which is less representative and can ignore the people’s desires.

The Republican Party primary was elective. Seventeen Republican candidates ran, most of whom were establishment and favored by the party. Had the primary been a nominative process, a few party-loved candidates would have ran, and one of them would have inevitably won. The party would have been fine backing any of these candidates. But the opposite occurred. Not only did anti-establishment, party-hated candidates run, but they finished first and second in total delegates. Donald Trump clinched the nomination, despite the “Never-Trump” movement and constant (warranted) aspersions cast at him by party officials. Republican voters spoke loudly and made it clear that they would elect their candidate, and not merely nominate a cookie-cutter drone of the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party seemed to start along the same path. Hillary Clinton was a clear party-loved candidate whose name recognition alone gave her a great advantage, but she faced stiff competition from Bernie Sanders. Democratic voters spoke out against nominative processes like the Republican voters, yet Clinton still won. Of course, it could be that she was the more favored candidate among voters and therefore clearly deserved to win, but Sanders offers valid critiques of what he and many others view as the Democratic Party vying to keep the nomination in their power.

The most obvious target is superdelegates. Superdelegates are unelected delegates who are free to vote for whomever at the Democratic convention. The Republican Party does not have unbound, unelected delegates. Superdelegates consist of party officials, such as former presidents, DNC committee members, governors and congressmen. Sanders’ critique is that such people almost necessarily vote in line with the party’s desires at the expense of what the people desire. In fact, abolishing superdelegates in the Democratic primary could likely have led to a much tighter race, as Clinton has 591 pledged superdelegates to Sanders’ 48. This system strongly reinforces the nominative, instead of elective, process that the parties desire.

Other complaints are smaller but still important. Sanders alleges that the party planned debates during times with little viewers and limited the number of debates, which hurt his chances as a little-known candidate looking for more exposure. Likewise, closed primaries hurt him by disallowing independents from voting, who largely favor him over Clinton. This is shown in the difference between caucuses and primaries for Sanders. Sanders dominated caucuses and faired less well in primaries. And of course, his campaign hurled general accusations that party leadership clearly favored Clinton and worked with her at the expense of the public vote.

If we want to truly call America a representational democracy, it’s important that the primaries are representative of voters’ desires, not the parties’. Republican voters trumped the party this time around, but that may be the one-time exception. The Democratic primary, in its current state, favors party-loved candidates more than fringe candidates, even if voters might prefer the fringe. In a country where two parties can yield so much power over politics, we need to start looking for alternatives to ensure that nominative primaries, or the norm, never happen again. Adding parties to loosen the two party hold, exploring alternative voting systems like the Alternative Vote, or even just applying restrictions and regulations on the parties could all help move the power from parties to the people, where it needs to be.

Bordelon is a philosophy junior from Houston.