hardy enough to stand in line, lucky enough to have employment that doesn't require them to work between 6:30 and 8 p.m., and with enough resources -- civic and personal -- to get themselves to a caucus and know what to do there. Hardly a representative sample.I've found, unsurprisingly, that, at least among Democrats, opposition to caucuses is highly correlated with one's support for Hillary Clinton. Following this model, I registered strong support for the caucus system after participating in it, and, shockingly, my preferred candidate did very well there. I rather liked the deliberative nature of it and the community feeling it engendered. As I wrote at the time:
I would say that the rewards outweigh the risks. It's the good sort of social capital that Putnam and Etzioni are always talking about and Normal Rockwell loved to paint, without the bad stuff, like Italian fascism.Democrats should probably get a little distance from the current race before they start deciding whether caucuses are good or bad.
That said, it's not intuitively obvious ahead of time which candidates will do well in caucuses and which won't. Knowing that the caucus turnout is smaller, more educated, wealthier, and whiter that the primary electorate doesn't necessarily help you predict candidate success. Two years ago, if you knew that the Democratic contest was going to come down to a little known black politician from Chicago and Hillary Clinton, whom would you have guessed would be the caucus favorite? Was there any way to predict that Hillary would somehow be perceived as the gun-totin', beer-drinkin' Scranton girl who doesn't trust them fancy economists, and that her rival, the black Chicago community organizer, would be seen as the East Coast elitist? Also, keep in mind that Hillary Clinton could have done quite a bit better in the caucus states if she'd, you know, campaigned there. One other point: did you notice that the Republican caucuses were largely won by Mitt Romney? Is he really the GOP's Obama?
I get that a lot Democratic presidential nominations come down to an insider favorite vs. an egghead (JFK vs. Stephenson in '60, Humphrey vs. RFK/McCarthy in '68, Mondale vs. Hart in '84, Clinton vs. Brown in '92, Gore vs. Bradley in '00, everyone vs. Dean in '04), and that the egghead usually does somewhat better in the caucuses, even if the insider almost always wins the nomination. But is that a reason for disbanding caucuses?
The real test of any nominating system is not whether it's "fairer" or allows greater participation or is more representative or promotes community or protects the secret ballot or anything else. It's whether it produces better nominees than other nominating systems. Keep in mind that of the six Democratic contests I mentioned above, the insider got nominated every time but only won the general election twice.
So, would getting rid of caucuses produce higher quality nominees?
I have no idea. Your thoughts?