Thursday, June 30, 2016

Disallow Open (Season On) Primaries

Bernie Sanders wants all Democratic primaries to be open because he benefited from them. They are not fairer than closed primaries as he claims. It's just the opposite - they can allow avid opponents of the Democratic party to hijack their primaries by voting for the weakest candidate.

This may well be the reason that Bernie could win just one closed primary in Oregon. All his other victories only came from open or semi open primary states, or those holding caucuses. It can also explain Hillary's surprise loss in Michigan where polls showed her leading Bernie by double digits. Michigan as an open primary state could have enough of its Hillary hating Republicans (many calling themselves Independents) voting for Bernie as an easier to beat general election candidate.

Caucuses favor Bernie with his smaller but more passionate following for an entirely different reason. Caucuses suppress voter turnout because they make voting harder. They disallow early voting, have restrictive times for assembly, and take hours to complete instead of simply pulling a lever or marking choices on a sheet. They also lack secret balloting, creating peer pressure among the timid to go along with the vociferous "feel the Bern" supporters. As widely acknowledged in the media, if all caucuses had instead been primaries, Hillary would have won the nomination by even wider margins.

So Bernie is silent on converting Democratic state caucuses (that suppress voter participation much more than alleged by closed primaries) into primaries, even open ones. His hypocrisy here is matched by his about face on the role of  Superdelegates from whom he now seeks the Democratic nomination despite Hillary convincingly winning the popular vote.

Bernie justified his changed demand on the ground that he fared better than Hillary in some polls in a hypothetical general election match up with Republican opponents, including Donald Trump. Such polls have a similar flaw as the open primary elections - participants can deliberately mislead and distort results.

They can do this if they want to tarnish a strong candidate that they dislike. For example, Republicans who are polled can say truthfully that they will choose Trump over Hillary, but then lie on the next question, declaring they will vote for Bernie over Trump. This way they know that Bernie will look better than Hillary in the poll match ups, and weaken her standing. Bernie supporters can truthfully answer that they'd choose Bernie over Trump, but lie and say they'd choose Trump over Hillary just to make Bernie look better than her. Even a small minority of polled respondents engaging in this gamesmanship can easily skew the results, as seems to have happened.

You may wonder why all this is not brought up in media discussions and coverage, if manipulation in open primaries and polls is actually happening. While it is possible that some in the media and polling organizations are simply oblivious, I suspect most keep quiet because publicizing the fact can lead to even greater abuse. That is because many people who hadn't thought about it can then jump in and also engage in this behavior. Plus, it would cast more doubts on the authenticity and reliability of the polls and decreased interest in them would lose audiences, adversely affecting the media and the polling organizations.

Coming back to the design of presidential primaries, why would Bernie who is very unlikely to again contest as a Presidential candidate push for open primaries? I suspect because of how he'd like to be remembered and preserve the sense of outrage among his followers. His preferred narrative would be that he would have done much better had there been open primaries with better scope of voter participation. And that the present corrupt system in a way cheated him of his nomination. That's nonsense of course as he probably knows, but hey, his self importance can trump (pun intended) the facts.

Finally, the design of the primary elections is largely a matter for the individual states and not directly connected to the Democratic Convention, so he's barking up the wrong tree. I do think the state primaries system for Presidential elections should be reformed, through efforts directed at the right (state) quarters, but in a way contrary to what Bernie demands. There should be no caucuses and no open primaries anywhere, only closed primaries so long as voters are allowed two or three months ahead of an election to declare their party choice.