For the past two weeks, Donald Trump has been on a tear, raging at how rigged the US presidential nominating system is. This is not a surprise to our readers: just two weeks ago we posted an article “The Year Americans Found Out Their Elections Are Rigged” which promptly went viral. And, judging by the Reuters/Ipsos poll, more than half of America agrees with Trump that the system U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is “rigged” while more than two-thirds want to see the process changed.
To be sure, the result echoes complaints from not only Donald Trump but also Bernie Sanders that the system is stacked against them in favor of candidates with close ties to their parties “a critique that has triggered a nationwide debate over whether the process is fair.”
For any foreigners reading this or those Americans unfamiliar with the US primary system, the United States is one of just a handful of countries that gives regular voters any say in who should make it onto the presidential ballot. But the state-by-state system of primaries, caucuses and conventions is complex. The contests historically were always party events, and while the popular vote has grown in influence since the mid-20th century, the parties still have considerable sway.
One quirk of the U.S. system – and the area where the parties get to flex their muscle – is the use of delegates, party members who are assigned to support contenders at their respective conventions, usually based on voting results. The parties decide how delegates are awarded in each state, with the Republicans and Democrats having different rules. It is the delegates’ personal opinions that Trump has focused on, because these can come into play at the party conventions if the race is too close to call, an issue that has become a lightning rod in the current political season.
Another complication is that state governments have different rules about whether voters must be registered as party members to participate. In some states, parties further restrict delegate selection to small committees of party elites, as the Republican Party in Colorado did this year.
Trump has repeatedly railed against the rules, at times calling them undemocratic. After the Colorado Republican Party awarded all its delegates to Ted Cruz, for example, Trump lashed out in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, charging “the system is being rigged by party operatives with ‘double-agent’ delegates who reject the decision of voters.”
And while Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has dismissed Trump’s complaints as “rhetoric” and said the rules would not be changed before the Republican convention in July, many agree with Trump: “I’d prefer to see a one-man-one-vote system,” said Royce Young, 76, a resident of Society Hill, South Carolina, who supports Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “The process is so flawed.”
Like Trump, Sanders has taken issue with the Democratics party’s use of superdelegates, the hundreds of elite party members who can support whomever they like at the convention and who this year overwhelmingly back front-runner Hillary Clinton.
While establishment members clearly refuse to change the system which allows much leeway away from the popular vote, independent third parties see potential for improvement: Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the U.S. presidential nominating system could probably be improved in a number of areas, but noted that the control wielded by party leadership usually became an issue only during tight races.
“The popular vote overwhelms the rules usually, but in these close elections, everyone pays attention to these arcane rules,” he said.
However, even as Americans finally wake up to just how manipulated the presidential system can be, and is when a candidate who as unpalatable to the establishment as Trump is running, we expect nothing to change for a while: sadly just way too many pockets are greased thanks to the current rigged process, which guarantees that all sides will be reluctant to change it.
Some more results from the poll:
- Some 51 percent of likely voters who responded to the April 21-26 online survey said they believed the primary system was “rigged” against some candidates.
- Some 71 percent of respondents said they would prefer to pick their party’s nominee with a direct vote, cutting out the use of delegates as intermediaries.
- The results also showed 27 percent of likely voters did not understand how the primary process works and 44 percent did not understand why delegates were involved in the first place. The responses were about the same for Republicans and Democrats.
- Overall, nearly half said they would also prefer a single primary day in which all states held their nominating contests together – as opposed to the current system of spreading them out for months.