I've heard that abolishing the electoral college is so popular with Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. I know the electoral college is different from how the Democrats choose their candidate for president, but I'm still wondering why they don't have one nation-wide primary for their presidential candidates and get rid the current system with delegates and a state-by-state process.
Why don't the Democrats use the national popular vote for their presidential primaries?
First, 'why' questions of this sort are misleading, and difficult to address directly. The system the Democrats use for their primaries has built up over generations; their original reasons and rationales for doing things as they do them are now buried in political culture and tradition. You might as well ask 'why' women still (to this day) take the last names of their husbands, or 'why' people in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road. These are not things that are entirely subject to reason.
I will say that back in 1828 — when the Democratic Party was founded — a single nation-wide primary would have been impractical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that candidates used the primary process to travel from location to location, making themselves known and drumming up support. Today we have instantaneous mass media that lets us watch candidates debate long before the first primary occurs; in 1828, we would not have known who the candidates were until our local paper picked up their candidacies, and we would have had no opportunity to see or hear them until they plowed into town before our state primary. And since the candidates can only make their presence felt in one state at a time — necessitating a long, drawn out process — there needed to be some method for aggregating and rationalizing the results of all these separate primaries at the end. That led to party conventions and delegates and the whole complex process of wheeling and dealing that we see today.
As to 'why' the modern parties don't adopt a more modern nation-wide plebiscite to choose candidates, given that we now have the technology to do so... There are several likely reasons for that:
- Party insiders do not want to give up their 'gatekeeper' status, which allows them to maintain control over candidate choice and party messaging. That may sound Machiavellian, but it serves a useful purpose of keeping the party focused on its platforms and goals. A national plebiscite could install a candidate who is deeply at odds with congresspeople and state governors from the party, which would create internal tensions and difficulties in passing legislation.
- States do not want to give up the particular power that having state primaries and delegates gives to them. In a national plebiscite all those tiny New England states and those underpopulated mid-western states would be washed away by monster states like California, Texas, and New York. At a convention, at least, a state like Rhode Island is guaranteed some say for its people.
- Candidates do not particularly want the process to be a simple public popularity contest. If a contest is close enough to produce a brokered convention, candidates can focus on delegates, and delegates are much more likely to make decisions based on a critical assessment of candidates' policies and potentials than an average citizen is.
And dare I say it, it's worth keeping in mind — particularly in the propaganda-driven, mindlessly reactive, hyper-partisan morass we currently call politics — that the public at large does not necessarily make the best collective decisions for itself. Democracy works well when certain sociological and psychological conditions are met — when we can rise to the level of what Aristotle called a 'polity': a collection of earnest, dedicated, 'virtuous' citizens — but as a society we are doing very little to meet those conditions, and certain elements within our society are actively trying to disrupt them. Unless we want Boaty McBoatface to be the next Democratic candidate for president, I'd be leery of a national plebiscite for the time being.
Should be noted that the primary process does not apply to JUST the Democratic Party, but is the same for all major parties, and is dictated by state laws. (Some states have a different process for minor party candidates.)– jamesqfFeb 24, 2020 at 3:59
I feel the 2nd point here needs challenging, in a national one person one vote situation large states do not 'wash away' small states or stop Rhode Islanders having a say, it makes the voice of each person in those states equal.– JontiaOct 9, 2021 at 6:50
1@Jontia: That kind of equality is precisely what small states like RI don't want. Remember the US constitution was written to be a union of states as much as a union of citizens; the House (more or less) proportionally represents citizens, while the senate gives two votes to each state. Consider a case in which Candidate A trails by 4 points in every other state, but leads by 4 points in RI. In a simple plebiscite, RI's preference for A is washed away entirely; in our primary system RI guarantees a couple of delegates for A. Aggregation of this sort produces leverage in the game. Oct 9, 2021 at 7:19
2I understand that, I just feel it is important to distinguish between states and people in states. States voices are stopped by a national vote, California has no more say than RI. Because only individuals matter. The idea the California or any state has a single viewpoint is an awful situation reinforced by winner take all, first past the post primaries.– JontiaOct 9, 2021 at 7:33
1@Jontia: I don't disagree. But you will find plenty of people who do. Most of them will have the phrases "tyranny of the majority", "states' rights", and "rule by the ignorant masses" ready to hand. Those phrases are often used by idiots, granted, but in the hands of someone with a real philosophical bent they can become serious and interesting concerns. Oct 9, 2021 at 7:42
I would add another consideration to the list that @Ted Wrigley has offered, namely: Unity.
Either party (R or D) much prefer to put forth a candidate to the general election contest that has been selected by the majority of their voters.
Consider a national primary in which there are 10 candidates are running. It is more likely than not that none of the candidates would achieve a majority support in a national (one-day) primary. In that scenerio, the "winning" candidate would likely be a plurality winner rather than a majority winner.
One could still have multiple run-offs where the lowest-polling candidate is eliminated after each round, though.– AllureFeb 24, 2020 at 0:31
1@Allure, yep. However that would not meet the condition of the OP, i.e. ONE national election– BobEFeb 24, 2020 at 0:45
4If you use preferential voting it would be sufficient to hold one election. Feb 24, 2020 at 1:15
I think one more reason to add is that it is practice for the actual election. Another reason is that it also gives a first feel for what the actual election might look like. The last Democratic primary was a great example as Sanders seem to be winning state after state after state, and coming dangerously close in several 'battleground' states. An early indicator that something was up.– ouflakFeb 25, 2020 at 12:29
2@JonathanReez it depends on your perspective. I would agree that under the preferential scheme a choice made by a voter is converted (ie, my 1st choice is Candidate A) from Candidate A to some other candidate in order to force a majority. Mathematically, under a preferential scheme the choices of the voters can be changed to create a majority. But the basic truth is that "majority" is a consequence of the system, rather than votes.– BobEFeb 25, 2020 at 18:06
I've heard that abolishing the electoral college is so popular with Democratic politicians and Democratic votersI've heard many things, too. I've heard that vaccines cause autism. I've heard that global warming isn't real. Having "heard" something doesn't mean it's true. It doesn't mean anything at all, in fact.