Superdelegates Aren't a Threat to Democracy

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Democrats are debating what to do about the mechanisms for choosing presidential convention delegates. Caucuses or primaries? Open or closed primaries? Superdelegates?

I don't really think there's a lot at stake in most of this. In practical terms, it's impossible to predict in advance which candidate (if any) would be helped by various proposed tweaks, and at any rate some of these decisions are made by state legislatures, not the parties, much less the national parties. If a state doesn't want to hold a primary, there's not much national Democrats can do about it. 

But what really gets people riled up about this stuff are questions of democracy, and I'm afraid I'm a spoilsport on that question, too. When it comes to general elections, I believe it's extremely important for voting to be as easy as possible. But for nominations, I don't think caucuses (which few people attend) are any less democratic than primaries. I do think caucuses should provide (as they do in some states) some kind of absentee voter opportunity, but other than that, I don't see a problem.

That's because nominations are essentially party decisions, and can properly be made however the parties prefer. The only thing at stake in terms of democracy is whether the parties are permeable -- whether, that is, newcomers are able to join the party and have some influence in its choices. That hasn't always been the case; before the Democratic Party reforms after the 1968 election, parties might hold meetings that were not publicly announced, or might otherwise by rule or practice make it impossible for those outside of the ruling faction to participate. 

But as long as the requirement of permeability is met, the mechanisms used for internal decisions are really neutral with regard to democracy. So a multi-stage process in which formal party officials choose delegates without any outside participation at all is perfectly democratic, for example, as long as everyone who wants to get involved can have a say in choosing those officials. It simply isn't the case that more public participation in nomination politics, whatever its other virtues, equals more democracy.

What matters, again, is whether people have an opportunity to participate if they want. 

As far as superdelegates, I continue to believe they have served the Democratic Party well since they were introduced in the 1984 cycle. Superdelegates are very unlikely to overturn a popular nominee selection, but do provide the party with a safety valve if various unlikely but possible scenarios should play out. And the current group of supers, Democratic National Committee members and elected officials, are all indirectly selected by rank-and-file voters; they're not just appointed by some elite coterie. Which is why, by the way, they're not likely to do anything to upset the bulk of Democratic voters. 


And here are today's recommended links on politics:

1. Asfandyar Mir and Paul Staniland at the Monkey Cage on U.S. attempts to influence Pakistan

2. Kimberly Wehle on the limits of the pardon power. 

3. Jonathan Chait on the Republican tax reform talking points and the policy reality.

4. My View colleague Tyler Cowen on tax reform

5. And Alyssa Rosenberg on "Gone With the Wind.

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