History of primaries and who votes | Rich Elfers

Donald Trump's unpopularity numbers hover around 60 percent. Hillary Clinton's are between 50 and 55 percent. How did we get into a situation where most voters will be required to elect the least unpopular candidate this November? The answer lies in history and human nature.

  • by
  • Wednesday, June 1, 2016 6:15pm
  • Opinion

Donald Trump’s unpopularity numbers hover around 60 percent. Hillary Clinton’s are between 50 and 55 percent. How did we get into a situation where most voters will be required to elect the least unpopular candidate this November? The answer lies in history and human nature.

For most of the 19th and 20 centuries, until the 1970s, party bosses selected the nominees in smoke-filled rooms during their respective conventions. While there were some poor presidents, we see candidates like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy who were extremely popular. How did these men get selected?

According to George Friedman, chairman and founder of Geopolitical Futures, in an article titled, “In Defense of Party Bosses,” professional politicians had a strong motivation to pick a popular person because it kept them in power. Strong, vulgar self-interest was their chief goal. Nominating popular people meant that party bosses kept their jobs.

Unfortunately, it also wasn’t very democratic and was often corrupt.

That approach began to change during the Progressive Era of the early 20th century when reformers tried to clean up the system. The primary was born as a way to wrest power from corrupt party bosses. The theory behind this was that if average people had the chance to vote, the public’s will, not the whims of party bosses, would decide who our presidents would be. More democracy would mean fairer, better choices. Unfortunately reality got in the way.

Because of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, reformers were able to push for greater public power gained through primaries.

That pattern has held ever since. The problem is that most Americans pay very little attention to primary races. The majority of Americans only begin to care a few weeks before the general elections in November. Few voters actually turn out to vote in the primaries. Those who do are deeply interested in politics and tend to exist on the edges of the political mainstream. That’s why candidates like Trump and Sanders have gained so much support.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, primary participation has risen from 9.8 percent in 2012 to 17.3 percent among Republicans today. Among Democrats, turnout has risen from 6.3 to 11.7 percent. These voters are passionate about politics and tend to vote according to their values rather than personalities, according to Friedman. The candidates may be extremely disliked, but that is not the concern of the primary junkies.

This election season, the primary system has created two very unpopular candidates. It’s an example of right intentions not taking into account human nature.

Friedman argues that we were better off with less democracy, rather than more, due to public political apathy. The founders of the Constitution understood the important role of political experts to choose the nominees. That’s why they created the Electoral College. The idea behind it was to protect the people from making bad decisions based upon emotions rather than reason and experience.

The reason we have two extremely unpopular presidential candidates today is because primaries were held and most people stayed at home, according to Friedman. Primaries are great in theory, but they don’t take human nature into account. Most of the American voting public is apathetic and reformers have created consequences that they never contemplated. We get what we deserve, but not what is good for our republic and our nation.

More in Opinion

More information needed on proposed recycling site

We want to bring awareness to your readers about a 34 acre wood recycling center that is in the permitting process with King County.

North neighbors keep a close eye on the U.S.

How much do you know about Canada? If you’re like most Americans, not much.

Trickle-down equation may not add up, Dems say

A tax overhaul plan drawn up by Republicans in Congress will be a good deal for many households, though not every one, or nearly every one, as promised by its authors.

America’s monster

I’m not sure when it happened, but I recently realized I’ve stopped asking myself, “What are we going to do about mass shootings and gun violence in this country?” Instead, I now ask, “When is the carnage going to come to Enumclaw?”

Avoiding loss means more than gaining something else

Some studies have shown that losses are twice as psychologically powerful as gains. American history and our current political situation help reveal a great deal about the American/human psyche.

Congratulations, Jan Molinaro

In every election, one person must win and the other will lose. Now more than ever, it is important to show our children how to be gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

Don’t give into the pressure of driving drowsy

Eleven years ago, a drowsy-driving car wreck left me with injuries that still challenge me today.

Baxley and Young should have showed up at public forum

On Tuesday, October 17th, was the Black Diamond Maple Valley Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum, where the Black Diamond candidates for Mayor and two City Council positions had the opportunity to talk with the citizens of Black Diamond, and to answer questions put to them by these citizens.

Issues to be addressed in Enumclaw elections

Who should I vote for in the Enumclaw City Council and mayoral races?

Enumclaw helped raise $3,500 for Special Olympics

The last couple of weekends the St. Barbara Knights of Columbus have been involved with our annual Tootsie Roll Program.

Court grapples with school funding

When the legal battle on education funding returned to the state Supreme Court Tuesday, the leader of Washington’s public school system was closely monitoring this installment of the McCleary drama from his office down the street.

Baxley is an important choice for Black Diamond mayor

Judy Baxley has been part of our local civics for years, and thank goodness because citizen involvement is critical to monitoring big developers.