Do we live in a democracy?
The common answer to that question that makes everyone feel good has long been “yes”. Democracy, or governing by the “will of the people”, sounds great. But, the real answer to that questions is “no”, or at best a “maybe” or “kinda-sorta”.
We are definitely not a small-d democracy where everyone votes directly on everything, and the majority always wins. If we were, then we wouldn’t have things like the Electoral College when selecting a president – a system where winning the popular vote does not guarantee victory. Also the US Senate wouldn’t be set up the way it is with each state having the same number if Senators regardless of population. The Senate wouldn’t allow something like the filibuster where one person can effectively shut down legislation.
No, we don’t have direct democracy in this country. Instead we have that “maybe” or “kinda-sorta” version of democracy called “representative democracy” where voters select individuals to represent them in the decision making process.
Picking those people is the voter’s responsibility, but we are often playing in a rigged game.
With both major parties hosting their national conventions in the coming weeks more focus than at any time in recent history is on the process of nominating candidates for the Presidency of the United States.
Republicans started out well when it comes to a democratic process bosting a whopping 17 candidates seeking the party’s nomination.
By the end however they’ve ended up with a candidate, Donald Trump, who is so unpopular among many in the party establishment that there is a simmering #NeverTrump movement of party officials who would like nothing more than to figure out how they could steal the nomination from him. They pursue this even though he is a candidate who helped lead to record setting turnout all across the country in the Republican Primary. They’ve even been actively recruiting for a candidate, any candidate, who didn't even run this election cycle because the second place candidate, Ted Cruz, is almost equally as unpopular.
What the actual voters want is a seeming afterthought.
Things on the Democrat side, aren’t much better though.
Bernie Sanders made the race for the Democrat nomination much more competitive than many thought possible. However, in the end he did not have much of a chance because of something patently undemocratic about the process – superdelegates. Superdelegates are high ranking current and former party officials who are unbound by the primary voting results. They can support any candidate regardless of how the voters vote. Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming lead among superdelegates gave her a sense of inevitability.
Yes, Clinton won the overall popular vote in the primary making it more “democratic”, but in an endeavor like politics a manufactured sense of inevitability can become a self fulfilling prophecy.
Last week, the Pew Research Center released a telling set of data showing how all this has led to a breakdown in the candidate selection process resulting in more “unsatisfying” candidates than have been seen in over two decades.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the least “satisfying” candidates since 1992. Trump matches the low water mark of 40% set by Republican George H.W. Bush that year, and Hillary Clinton also has the lowest satisfaction level for a Democrat since that same election. Somewhat ironically, her 43% satisfaction rating as a candidate bests only that of her husband Bill Clinton who had an abysmal 33% in his first run for the Oval Office.
It may come as a surprise to many, but political parties are actually private organizations. They are free to set up their rules as they wish and select their nominees effectively however they want. Their goal is to win elections so that their people can become the arbiters of the power that comes with elected office. Being small-d democratic is somewhere way down on the priority list.
Unfortunately for voters, this election cycle the processes in both parties have resulted in suboptimal candidates. That leaves the question, do we live in a democracy?
This post first appeared in this week's editionof the Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com.