Iowa-New Hampshire

What Dems can actually do without Republicans

Our political system is structurally stacked against Democrats. The U.S. Senate gives overweighted power to small states, helping Republicans. The Electoral College is equally advantageous to Republicans.

Republicans have held the White House for sixteen of the 34 years since 1988, yet in only one of those eight elections since then have they won the popular vote (George W. Bush in 2004). There is little that can be done about either of these discriminatory sets of rules, short of constitutional amendments.

There is one area in which Democrats can act alone, and that is how they operate and schedule their presidential primaries. Right now, the Democratic primary / caucus schedule is heavily weighted towards small and predominantly white states. First on the list of contests in Iowa, then usually followed eight days later with the New Hampshire Primary. Both of these contests favor candidates who can attract a lot of early volunteers, because door-to-door canvassing is feasible and effective in such small states with months, even years, of lead time in advance.

For candidates whose predominant appeal is to metropolitan voters in blue states, it is an excruciating wait until primaries occur in such states. By that time, they are often out of the race because (a) they did poorly in Iowa and/or New Hampshire, (b) the media minimizes their chances, and (c) they run out of money.

Democrats could fix this by establishing their own schedule for primaries. One idea that has been suggested is setting up a series of four regional primary days, (a) Northeast, (b) Southeast, (c) Northwest, and (d) Southwest. Or, the regions could be completely different, though it helps to have clearly define geographic areas. Also, the order of the regional primaries could change in each quadrennial election year.

By changing how their party selects its presidential nominees, Democrats would demonstrate to the American people that they truly support democratic processes. It might eventually help in changing the Electoral College and bringing needed reform to the Senate.

Regrettably, when it comes to doing the heavy lifting to modify the Electoral College and the Senate rules, the Democratic Party is the equal to the Republican Party in perpetuating the status quo.

This and other systemic obstacles to Democrats is eloquently stated in Jedediah Britton-Purdy’s recent guest essay in the New York Times.

At a more basic level, today’s Republican Party succeeds only because the Electoral College, the Senate and the Supreme Court all tilt in its favor. That system has handed conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that only one Republican has won the presidential popular vote after 1988.

The Electoral College is like the Senate; it favors small states and is tone deaf to the margins by which candidates win individual states. Wyoming, a Republican state, has equal representation in the Senate to California, a Democratic state. Equal representation, but California has fully fifty-seven times as many people. That means that each person in Wyoming has fifty-seven times as much power in the Senate as individuals in California.

Democrats are nearly as responsible as Republicans for the perpetuation of the antiquated Electoral College. While many rank-and-file Democrats would like to see it abolished, party leaders are radio silent about it. They need to take the lead in either abolishing the Electoral College or passing the National Popular Vote Act in states totaling more than 270 Electoral votes. That act, which has passed 16 states with 195 electoral votes, instructs electors to vote for whomever wins the national popular vote. But that might be dicey now with how Republicans are trying to take power away from the electors and give them to state legislatures in Red States.

So, if Democrats wish to advance democracy without opposition from the Republicans, they may well want to focus on how they plan their primaries. Time is actually short, as plans for the 2024 primaries are already being made.