As readers of this blog know, I’m no fan of how far the radical changes that were made in the 1970s to the presidential nominations process went in eliminating any special weight that elected party officials, from throughout the country, carried in that process (see here). But if we are going to have a purely populist system of selection, primary elections are a far fairer, more representative means of gauging popular support than the caucuses.
Thus, I was glad to see this report in David Weigel’s Washington Post story today assessing the midterms and the coming 2020 process. In the context of reporting the decision of Nebraska Democrats to replace their caucus with a primary, Weigel writes:
That process revealed a gap between the support for grass-roots candidates in caucuses and their support from a wider electorate. In 2008, Barack Obama clobbered Hillary Clinton in Nebraska’s caucuses, winning 67.6 percent of the vote and two-thirds of the state’s delegates. Weeks later, he took just 49.1 percent of the vote in the nonbinding primary. Clinton careened into the same trap eight years later, as Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) won 57.1 percent of the caucus vote, then just 46.9 percent in the nonbinding primary.
In 2016, 14 states held caucuses, and all but two of them backed Sanders. But the 2020 caucus pool has shrunk to just eight states: Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah and Washington. Nearly 200 delegates formerly chosen in caucuses will be chosen in primaries instead, something that reform advocates favored as a way to broaden the electorate.