Presidential Selection: Historical, Institutional, and Democratic Perspectives
In A Better Candidate, Eugene Mazo and Michael Dimino, eds. (Forthcoming)
39 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2018 Last revised: 10 May 2019
Date Written: May 2019
In 2016, for the first time, neither major-party candidate for the presidency was viewed favorably by even half the electorate, suggesting strongly that our presidential nominating procedures stand in need of rethinking. In doing so, this chapter draws on three potential sources of guidance: history, institutional analysis, and democratic theory. A long and steady trend since the founding has produced a growing convergence between the selectorate – the body that does the nominating – and the electorate, the body that chooses the office-holder from among the nominees. Because the characteristics of the selectorate necessarily influence the qualities of the ultimate nominees, careful design of the selectorate can increase the likelihood that the grounds of choice will fall along axes thought to be democratically desirable. This effect, however, is diluted as the criteria which define the selectorate converge with those that define the electorate. Instead, convergence of the selectorate and electorate tends to result in negation of the benefits of purposeful institutional design. This in turn results in a kind of delegation of the criteria of choice to self-appointed individuals, groups, and candidates, who may not fully share the collective norms of democratic practice that in the end comprise the most significant and effective constraints on the behavior of participants in the nominating process. At the end of the day, efforts to reform the nomination process may be misplaced. What we may need more than institutional reform is a systematic effort to renew, justify, and strengthen democratic norms, an effort that by definition must take place not in the halls of legislatures or party bureaucracies, but deep in the terrain of civil society.
Keywords: democracy, president, election, primary election, democratic theory
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