Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

How American Politics Went Insane

Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic, writing about… well, that thing we’re all obssessed with. He argues that the political process has become so decentralized that it barely takes any actual support to make it onto a ballot.

According to the Pew Research Center, in the first 12 presidential-primary contests of 2016, only 17 percent of eligible voters participated in Republican primaries, and only 12 percent in Democratic primaries. In other words, Donald Trump seized the lead in the primary process by winning a mere plurality of a mere fraction of the electorate. In off-year congressional primaries, when turnout is even lower, it’s even easier for the tail to wag the dog.

In the 2010 Delaware Senate race, Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell secured the Republican nomination by winning just a sixth of the state’s registered Republicans, thereby handing a competitive seat to the Democrats. Surveying congressional primaries for a 2014 Brookings Institution report, the journalists Jill Lawrence and Walter Shapiro observed: “The universe of those who actually cast primary ballots is small and hyper-partisan, and rewards candidates who hew to ideological orthodoxy.”

This is actually one of the conclusions—not premises—of Rauch’s argument. His premise is that political power brokers, backroom dealmaking, and the kind of shady things most people hate are actually pretty healthy for a democracy.

I’m not entirely certain, but it’s an argument worth entertaining.