A Few Thoughts on Caucuses
There is something really wonderful about a caucus. Very homespun with a great sense of tradition about how they're run, people getting together from their communities to spend a lot of time participating in the small-d democratic process. And when there is a caucus, the results are all that we can go by. The numbers are final and that's that. (Unless we're talking about Iowa, in which case they may never be final. But I digress...)
However, although the results of a caucus are definitive, we still must recognize they are a caucus, which is a totally different process from standard voting. And the most substantive difference, beyond even how the process works, is the time required to participate. Nevada tried to help with that by allowing for early voting where you list favorites in order, but then it's not really a caucus, but rather a combination of one and how they vote for the Oscars.
And the results you get are colored by this. Take a look at the presidential election 2016. That year, 539,260 people voted in Nevada for Hillary Clinton. By comparison, turnout in the Nevada caucus is expected to be only about 120,000. That's just 22% of people who voted in the presidential election.
While it's true that fewer people vote in a primary than in the general election, the numbers are much closer for a presidential race than one that's just between local candidates. I took a look at the recent race in New Hampshire (which is a primary, not a caucus), and about 80% of Democrats who voted for Clinton in 2016 voted in the recent primary. That's a significantly higher percentage than in the Nevada caucus.
The thing is, what I wish is that when analysts look at the results of the Nevada caucus and proclaim whoever to be the definitive leader among Democrats (now, of course Bernie Sanders, but whoever the person will be in subsequent years), or look at who didn't do well, it would be wonderful if they kept this perspective in mind and actually at least mention that only 22% of Democrats who voted in the 2016 general election voted in the caucus. And that it favors candidates who can get people willing to attend the long hours required to caucus. That enthusiasm to vote is a great thing and important. But it's only part of the story. Just 22% of it.
The reality is that it's just harder to participate and vote in a caucus than a primary. So, while we have to accept the results for what they are, they are nonetheless skewed, which isn't the ideal way to try to pick a presidential nominee.
I'm not the only one who feels this way, of course. But one name who agrees stands out. And that would be Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate Minority Leader and former senator of Nevada -- who was instrumental in pushing to make the Nevada caucus the third race in the primary season. He told the New York Times about his own state --
“All caucuses should be a thing of the past. They don’t work for a multitude of reasons.”
If a state wants to hold a caucus, that's fine. It's their state, their option. But a political party shouldn't reward that and allow them to schedule their caucus early in the process that they, the party, should control. And if the state chooses to do so -- fine, their choice. But the party should then declare that zero of the delegates will be included in a candidates total as unauthorized.
All caucuses, as Harry Reid -- who helped push caucuses for his own state -- says, should be a thing of the past. They don't work. And they not only don't work, they don't work for a multitude of reasons.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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