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The Case For Traditional Party Primaries

by John W. Pigg, published

Primaries, despite all appearances, are actually necessary as vehicles of Democracy. Most readers of IVN have a general idea of what primaries are and how they function. However, I would argue that the benefits of primaries are rarely, if ever, mentioned. The reason for this is because they are old and we, as a society, have forgotten why they were necessary.

U.S. Parties

The United States electoral system is unique. There are few if any modern countries that can boast the stability and the continuity of the American political system. One of the things that I believe makes our parties fundamentally different from other nations is their structure. U.S. parties are fundamentally designed to be bottom up parties which starkly contrasts between our European friends top down systems.

What does this mean? I'm glad you asked.

Simply put, our citizens who declare a party choose their party candidate. This is in stark contrast to other countries where their party candidates are chosen by a highly centralized party committee. This is only possible through widespread, institutionalized primaries.

Primaries are Awesome

Major party primaries should continue to be subsidized by public tax dollars -- the primary reason being they provide a much needed benefit to the American public:

  • Democratic -- Public primaries allow party members to decide for themselves who should represent the party. Candidates are chosen by the voters, not party officials. This is important as it is a distinctly American concept. In most other countries, the party leaders choose their party's representatives. When advocating for ending public primaries, I recommend looking at the 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia. This election is the most recent example of two bad candidates, and it is largely due to the lack of a primary.
  • Discussion -- It allows for much needed discussion as to what the party brand should look like. Currently, within the GOP, this conversation is how conservative a candidate should be. But historically primaries pitted different factions within the party against each other, meaning party voters got the opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted their party brand to be liberal, conservative, or moderate.
  • Moderation -- One often unmentioned benefit of primaries is that the party has an interest in who represents them in the general election. Major parties tend to only allow people to run in their primary that have a decent history and good public record. This is generally why extremists (Klan, Neo-Nazis and Communists) will sometimes run as independents and write-ins.
  • Candidate ID -- Traditional party primaries also allow for voters to know that the candidate running within the major party holds some of their core values. Without easily recognizable party labels, it is very easy for voters to become confused or misled. Consider the case of California voters registering for the right-wing American Independent Party; some experts argue that this is due to a misunderstanding on the part of independents who wish to register as such.

Opting out of Major Party Primaries is Bad

The more major party primaries are controlled by non-independent thinkers the worse the system will become. Not voting in major party primaries allows for the following:

  • One Brand -- As more and more independent thinkers and political moderates opt out of the major parties, our major parties become less and less diverse. This lack of intra-party diversity destroys political honesty within the party and discourages differences of opinion.
  • Partisanship -- If our representatives realize that they will not be held accountable by moderates and independents within a primary, they have absolutely no incentive to compromise.
  • Weakened Institutions -- As our major parties become more ideologically narrow, and more partisan, voters lose more and more faith in government. And when people lose faith, they stop participating and paying attention. Without the attention of the voting public, bad policy will continue to be made.

My Position

A great many people on this site seem to be of the opinion that changing the system will make things better. I believe that if independents join in the two-party system they can have a powerful impact on policy, elections, and bipartisan solutions. And in my next article I will demonstrate how....

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