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.

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 in his “Global Futures” newsletter called “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

U.S., Russia agree on Middle East situation

Since Russia helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad stay in power and helped to defeat ISIS, are Russia and the U.S. at odds in the Middle East? Is Russia threatening American dominance in the region? The answer to both is no.

Page-turners: Best books of 2017

Continuing an end-of-year tradition that dates back more than 15 years, the King County Library System has chosen its Best Books of 2017.

Anthem protests about equality, not disrespect

For all who write negative comments about the football players who took a knee and posted that “this is not the America we grew up in,” let me share a few of the personal events from my life growing up in Tacoma Washington as a white woman.

Trump supporters’ attitude still the same

“Support Trump? Sure,” she said. “I like him.” These words by Pam Shilling from Trump Country western Pennsylvania reflect what many Trump supporters are thinking a year after the 2016 election victory, according to an article excerpted from “Politico.com” by “The Week” (Dec. 1, 2017).

Readers note: Change in comments section

The Courier-Herald has switched to a different online reader-comments platform.

Former fan finished with disrespectful NFL players

I lived off the grid for 15 years and the one thing I missed the most was watching pro football.

Carrying firearms about to change at the state Capitol

If you come to the state Capitol and want to see lawmakers in action, there are a few rules to follow while sitting in the galleries overlooking the Senate and the House floors.

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.

Opening our minds can be a beautiful thing

As a leader of my church’s Sunday Adult Forum, I had a goal: to put a human face on Islam for the members of the congregation and community.