Our two-party political system generally acts to limit consideration of political views to those in one corner of the authoritarian right political spectrum. In a typical election year we would not have discussion of subjects such as eliminating the influence of Wall Street, ending the drug war, and opposition to American interventionism. Bernie Sanders, despite trying to limit his campaign to economic issues, did broaden the range of discussion this year. In addition, the campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump exposed how undemocratic our system is.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that over half of voters consider the system to be rigged:
More than half of American voters believe that the system U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is “rigged” and more than two-thirds want to see the process changed, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
The results echo complaints from Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders that the system is stacked against them in favor of candidates with close ties to their parties – a critique that has triggered a nationwide debate over whether the process is fair.
The United States is one of just a handful of countries that gives regular voters any say in who should make it onto the presidential ballot. But the state-by-state system of primaries, caucuses and conventions is complex. The contests historically were always party events, and while the popular vote has grown in influence since the mid-20th century, the parties still have considerable sway.
Trump and Sanders have encountered different obstacles to beat the establishment of their party. Trump has led in the delegate race, but there has been talk of using convention rules to keep him from winning the nomination, especially if he fails to win on the first ballot.
Sanders has had to deal with party rules which have made it difficult for insurgent candidates to win since George McGovern won the nomination. Party leaders subsequently thought the party was best off with moderate candidates who do well in the south despite significant changes in the country since 1972. The use of super delegates, restrictions on independents voting in may states, and front loading of southern primaries make it harder for insurgent candidates to win. Plus the Democratic Party showed even more favoritism this year, including with the debate schedule, failing to release the popular vote in Iowa, as was done eight years ago, which Sanders very likely won, Harry Reid’s actions in Nevada, and changing rules on contributions from lobbyists to help Clinton.
Imagine how different things could have been if Sanders was declared the winner of the popular vote in Iowa, Harry Reid hadn’t intervened and Sanders won or came closer in Nevada, Sanders wasn’t faced with a string of early southern losses, and if the news media wasn’t showing Sanders to be far behind from the start by counting the super delegates into the totals. Plus we have seen how much better Sanders does in states where independents can vote.
If we lived in a European parliamentary system, where it was possible for new parties to get established, then it might make sense to limit who can vote in a party primary to allow a party to preserve its ideological identity. However, the structure of our system is quite different. It would be very difficult for other parties to seriously challenge the two major parties. This creates a greater need for voters to be able to influence the candidates chosen by each party. With such input being artificially limited by the Democratic Party, we are seeing the party nominate a candidate who is popular with a majority of hard core partisans, but who is vastly out of step with those who lean towards voting Democratic. At the same time Clinton is probably clinching the nomination, her popularity is falling, she is struggling against Donald Trump and other Republicans in head to head polls, and she has lost in multiple recent states where independents were allowed to vote.