Methods of selecting presidential nominees: From peer review to populism in democratic institutional design

According to Stephen Gardbaum and Richard H. Pildes in Populism and Democratic Institutional Design: Methods of Selecting Candidates for Chief Executive in the United States and Other Democracies, New York University Law Review, 2018, Forthcoming, Donald Trump would most likely not be President but for the institutional change made in the 1970s in the nature of the presidential nomination process. From the article’s conclusion:

This Article should be read against the rise of the populist forces, including illiberal and authoritarian ones, that are currently roiling numerous long-established democracies. Populist alienation, anger, and hostility toward government and political elites are not unexpected in the aftermath of the financial crisis that began in 2007; as economic historians have shown in studies of democracies going back to 1870, financial recessions—which endure much longer and are therefore more painful than ordinary economic recessions—regularly spawn a rise in populist politics and parties, in left and right variations. Add to these economic dislocations the cultural challenges posed in many countries by the dramatic rates of increase of immigration (legal and illegal) in recent years, as well as the opportunities created by the rise of social media, and the challenge to traditional politics and parties is even less surprising.

Here’s the abstract:

In the 1970s, the United States shifted almost overnight from the methods that had been used for nearly 200 years to select party nominees, in which official representatives of the political parties played the major role in deciding the parties’ candidates for President, to a purely populist mode (primaries and caucuses) for selecting presidential nominees. This article explores the contrast between nomination processes that entail a central role for “peer review” – in which party leaders have a central voice in the selection of their parties’ nominees – and purely populist selection methods, such as currently used in the United States, in which ordinary voters completely control the selection of nominees and party figures have no special role.

The first half of the article is historical and focuses on the United States. The second half is comparative and explores how other major democracies structure the process of choosing party leaders and candidates for chief executive. In the historical sections, we seek to show both how radical the change was that was made in the 1970s and yet how accidental, contingent, and inadvertent this transformation was. The “framers” of these changes did not actually intend to create the system with which we ended up, in which the primaries and caucuses completely determine the parties’ nominees. The comparative sections show that the U.S. system is an extreme outlier among major democracies: in no other democracy is the selection completely controlled by the mass of ordinary voters. Most other democracies use systems of pure peer review to select candidates for chief executive; or use systems that mix elements of peer review with popular participation; and in other ways continue to give official representatives of the parties much greater say than in the United States over the selection of the parties’ nominees for Chief Executive.

The institutional design through which democracies choose nominees who compete to become a nation’s Chief Executive is among the most consequential features in the design of democratic elections. Yet there is surprisingly little scholarship that explores this issue in detail. This article also contributes to the general analysis of the rise of populist politics in many democracies today by showing how the institutional design for how party nominees are chosen can enable or constrain how easily and quickly populist political forces are able to capture control of government.

Interesting. — Joe

One thought on “Methods of selecting presidential nominees: From peer review to populism in democratic institutional design

  1. PLeahy February 3, 2018 at 12:04 pm Reply

    “The comparative sections show that the U.S. system is an extreme outlier among major democracies: in no other democracy is the selection completely controlled by the mass of ordinary voters.”

    Oh, the horror! The mass of ordinary voters!

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