I Hate It When My Husband Is Right…

A couple of weeks ago, Jennifer Rubin had an unsettling column in the Washington Post.

She was considering a recommendation issued by the nonpartisan Unite America Institute. The organization had been analyzing the “root causes, effects, and potential solutions to political polarization and partisanship,” and determined that fixing our political system requires eliminating partisan primaries. Instead, the Institute favors nonpartisan contests decided by “immediate runoffs,” sometimes called ranked-choice voting.

This recommendation rankled, because it echoed an argument my husband has made for years–one with which I’ve largely disagreed. He points to the (well-documented) fact  that primary election voters–right or left– are far more ideological than general election voters, and that the slates of candidates we used to get, chosen by those men in smoke-filled rooms, tended to be far more reasonable and appealing to the broad middle, or to the less doctrinaire voters.

I would respond to his position with a defense of “more democracy” represented by an additional electoral choice. I would also point out that primary voters were likely more ideological because they were more interested in/ informed about the political process; and I’d argue that what we need to do is engage and educate more people, not eliminate an election.

The Unite America Institute agrees with my husband.

“Voters who participate in primary elections are often unrepresentative of both their own party, and especially the electorate as a whole, producing similarly unrepresentative outcomes in the candidates they elect,” the report argues. “New polling data from Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, for example, found that the Republican primary electorate that voted for challenger Lauren Boebert over incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton was nearly twice as likely (60%) to identify as ‘very conservative’ compared to general election voters (25%).”

Since so few people vote in partisan primaries, the election outcomes for Congress are essentially decided by the most ideological voters that dominate these contests. “Though turnout in the 2020 general election shattered records at 67%, a supermajority of Congress had already been elected in the primaries,” the report found. “As our analysis found, only 10% of eligible Americans cast votes that mattered in partisan primaries that effectively decided 83% of seats.”

The Institute favors nonpartisan primaries and general election ranked-choice voting. These mechanisms have gained wide support by scholars seeking to address polarization.

“Compromise is politically dangerous, so candidates appeal to their bases,” Larry Diamond argues in a symposium for Politico. “General election voters can’t vote for a third alternative without wasting their vote on a ‘spoiler.’

I must (grudgingly) concede that the argument is persuasive. My husband wins this round.

If that wasn’t annoying enough, a blog post by Paul Ogden, expanding on a comment he made to a previous post here, did further damage to my pro-democracy assumptions.

I have applauded the growth of small-dollar political donations, which the internet makes possible. Such fundraising, I have fondly believed, erodes the influence of the well-heeled political donors who have previously been able to command the attention and obedience of political figures they supported. 

After all, what candidate is going to be influenced by my twenty dollar contribution? And on the “pro-democracy” side of the ledger, people who send ten or twenty bucks to a candidate are demonstrably more interested in the campaign, more likely to vote, follow policy arguments, etc. It’s a win-win!

Paul argues otherwise–convincingly.

The big money for Republican officials today is in small donor donations, not corporate contributions.  Republican elected officials like Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Senators Ted Cruz and and Josh Hawley are examples of GOP elected officials who raise huge sums of money off of small, individual contributions.

If you would have told me that there would come a day in politics in which elected members of Congress could eschew hosting big fundraising events attended mostly by corporate donors in favor of raising small donations from individuals, mostly online, I would have applauded the change.  The lack of corporate contributions means these elected officials can now act in a way that is in the people’s best interests rather than the interests of their big corporate donors.Or so I thought. 

That supposed “good government” change to fundraising practices has turned ugly. For elected officials to get a plethora of small donations, they have to draw attention to themselves.  The best way to do that is to act as crazy as possible, say outrageous stuff, and get as much time on Fox News, NewsMax and other conservative media outfits as possible.  

Damn damn damn. He’s right too.

I need a drink…..


  1. Professor-today’s message is monumental. I am speechless. Cathy and I have been married 50 years and this has never happened to me. You continue to be a leader!

  2. When I was in college I came across a small book (or call it a large essay) explaining that The Civil War was caused by “An Excess of Democracy” by David Herbert Donald, an historian who went on to write a wonderful biography of Lincoln and also one about his law partner, William Herndon.
    I’ve always remembered and re-read it over the years and came to agree with him strongly.
    Our history is not perfect, but as far as Presidents go the ones chosen by delegates appointed to their position by state party leaders and then sent to a national party convention have given us the really great ones when we needed them.
    And, it does seem that when we’ve had weak ones, things were running along pretty well anyway, even though trouble came later.
    But no Convention EVER nominated a totally incompetent one with no moral standards nor personal ethics who was totally ignorant of the principles of the Constitution and got him elected – until about 5 years ago.
    I’ll take the smoke-filled rooms over the ideologically motivated ignoramuses any day.

  3. I too have long been unhappy with the ENDLESS primary process. It seems that the old Smoke Filled Rooms did a better job. What we have now seems like a race to the bottom with many circular firing squads… And so long and unpleasant to endure. I have no idea how we get out of that but todays SK post brings some hope. Thanks

  4. My main concern with open primaries is the opportunity for a well-organized effort by one party to hamstring the opposing party by giving the primary win to a “beatable” opponent. Am I paranoid – I live in Florida.

  5. seems the vote most in cycles are mainly one item thinking,and pandering to that one item,while,the politician has already conned his way into their minds,hearts,and small bucks, to only follow,the rules of the org,they run in. ALEC,DNCC RNC etc, the voter would like to believe they are getting their bucks worth,while the con is employed against their needs.politicins ,they may speak as needed,while the party is in full control of the one who seeks to be elected.drive between the lines or get run over by the party. the voter needs to stand the party in a discussion,of the end game,not bullshit voting and wasting time and money we throw away..
    the uninformed is the issue, the real dreamers who don’t relize the party they vote for are actully screwing them down the line. since reagan’s time,,its become a big lie,and the party has fueled,being uninformed. how many politicians actully tell the voter to study the issue and then come back and decide?

  6. I have been complaining in recent years about the almost total lack of information regarding possible candidates in our elections, and the lack of awareness of Primaries and who the nominees are. The removal of Primary Elections will take what little control voters currently have over who their party candidates are, and knowledge of who their opponents could be, no matter how they are selected. The fact that some states have primaries, some do not, some have only one party with primaries; run-off elections come whether there have been Primaries or not and two elections for the same set election position is costly and holds up all election results. Partial access to Primary Elections is and has always been a half-assed election process; voters should have access to Primaries for both parties in all states. This past Georgia Senatorial election is an excellent example of holding up Congressional work. But…until the Electoral College has been “fixed” or done away with; the entire election process is as worthless as a fart in a hurricane.

    The term “United” States of America has become an anagram; switch a few letters in “United” and your result is “Untied” States of America. At least half of the Republican party today is totally untethered to the reality of all conditions in this country today and the far right is totterng on the edge of their Flat Earth foundation. The Republican party has become a two-party system in and of itself. What can possibly be ahead for us in the 2022 Primary Elections; and what can we expect in the November election with no foreknowledge of candidates?

  7. What do small-dollar donations mean for the Republican Party?


    What kind of independence are they allowed if they get small donors vs. large donors? How does this impact their voting? It just confirms the age-old wisdom about fools and their money. It’s the same dupes who send checks to TV evangelists hoping they’ll get into heaven.

    The only independence small donors allow are progressive candidates so they can deviate from the Oligarchic-controlled Democratic Party. Like AOC and Sanders. What was the DNC’s response to AOC in her primary? They ran a Wall Street stooge against her.

    It took 5 minutes of internet research to connect the Unite America group with the “radical centrist” Murdoch family (oligarchs) of Fox News. Imagine that!

    A centrist supports an economic system that has destroyed the country and the planet. Bravo!


  8. The smoke-filled backrooms were not better because they “selected” better candidates. They were better because the parties had power to “block” candidates that were deemed “unfit”. Not today. If political parties have lost anything (or perhaps they just refuse to use this power – I am not that sure) in the last 50 years, it is the power to plow the road for their preferred party candidate. Political parties seem to be mostly useless to me so any change that corrects for that might be welcome… but every system can be gamed eventually so I am not hopeful that this idea mentioned today will be much better.

  9. So granting political parties’ elites a strong role in selecting their candidates (and funding their campaigns) would be great! But such elites must have been elected by their parties’ activists.

  10. Paul Ogden is a smart man, so is your husband! Todd has been alluding to the same thing for quite a while!

    As was mentioned in earlier comments, Cyril Connolly stated that “there is no Hate without fear” and, those that have been manipulating the political and religious realm for their own personal gain are very well aware of it.

    What makes those individuals who flood to the polls with extremist viewpoints, vote the way they do? Fear! And, the hate that is derived from that fear. Is there any doubt that the venomous and vitriolic rhetoric so prevalent today, manipulates those who might otherwise have some sense.

    It’s a moral decay, not only of politics, but includes society and its subset of evangelical activism which seems to elevate the level of fear and hate of one’s neighbors. It’s nothing new, It’s just the old adage of the frog in the pot!

    Things have been turned up just low enough through the years, people get desensitized to the evil right before their eyes. And by evil, I’m referring to man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, the hatred of his neighbor, the disdain for helping your fellow citizens in need. Political parties have abdicated their responsibility for fairness, equality and civility in selecting their candidates. Win at all costs, contributes to this societal decay of morality and common sense. It also doesn’t seem that there is the willpower to do anything about it.

    It’s too bad, because, this continues to happen in a historical sense, and, man just goes with the flow. Unfortunately there is not going to be any great society rising up in this world, because, everything is so intertwined today, unlike any time in history. And the level of fear and hatred, the mentality of winning at all costs, not only will burn this society down, but all societies in unison! For free societies to go against their best interests despite the empirical evidence readily available that they are on the wrong path, shows you how powerful fear can be determining the direction of society.

    Is there a solution? Historically there have been solutions but, those solutions have been rejected! Yes there would have to be a major overhaul and how politics is done, but the willpower to take that step is not viable in today’s leadership. So, while you have so many drilling holes in the bottom of the boat, no one is standing up to stop the drilling or to plug the holes, or even bail water for that matter. That has to change before anything else!

  11. Anita Kirchen, for years I considered my self a Republican, but live in a heavily democratic district where a Republican candidate had no chance of winning, so I would regularly register as a Democrat in the primaries and would vote on the Democrat candidates that I thought would best represent my views. Never did I think it was worth while to cast a vote for some “loser”

    That said, I am sure in the hyper partisan age of social media, it is not out of the realm of possibility that somebody would organize a campaign around that theme.

  12. Why not try setting some limits before we go jumping off into ranked choice. After all, ranked choice got us another term of Susan Collins’ imaginary courage. Let’s follow our friends in Great Britain and limit the time allowed for campaigning to 5 weeks. Then we can also follow their example by prohibiting commercials on television, while providing forums that give the candidates equal opportunities to address questions. If we keep getting crazies then we can try something else, but I believe that, at the very least, this would work to protect the sanity of the voting public. Would it give us better governance? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.

  13. as long as they really mean eliminating primaries altogether, it would make sense. If what they’re trying to sneak through is in fact open primaries, that would be a disaster. Whenever I hear the word “nonpartisan” I reach for my revolver. There’s no such thing.

    It’s a nice idea, but at least in my state it would require re-writing the constitution and revising 160-odd town/city charters. But it would put lots of lawyers back to work so I suppose we should try it.

  14. Voting needs to move to all mail-in and/or polls should be open for much more than one day. It has become hard enough for many people to vote, so people only turn out for the general elections, if even for that. Having election day on a single Tuesday is not only antiquated, it’s ridiculous.

  15. There is no solution that protects democracy and improves outcomes in a country where the average citizen is so uninformed and incapable of critical thinking.

    The American people ARE the problem.

  16. Over it, has a point, there.
    Anita, I’m in Florida, as well, but I do not think it is paranoid to distrust state politics here, rather that it’s wise.
    And, yes, as Trump seems to have taught the MTG’s of the world, going public with insanity grabs the spotlight and to many people become virtually hypnotized by it.

  17. Over it, Mitch,

    You think PT Barnum had it right? What is seen known for? The phrase, “there’s a sucker born every minute” people want to be hoaxed!

    A Democrat from 1824 until 1854, a Republican from 1854 until 1891, it shows how symbiotic con artistry is with politics!

  18. It seems to me that so many problems go away if we’d just bite the bullet and agree on publically funded elections. Every office would be issued a, by today’s standards, very limited budget paid for by taxpayers. The means to inform the voters would be specified and limited mostly to head-to-head public debates. The parties get the budgeted amount for the election. How much they allocate of it to primaries is up to them. Or, they could run more than one candidate for office and split the allocation.

  19. Your article today is indeed disturbing. We not only need civics education, we need educated voters. Beyond that, we need voters who are not single issue voters. We need voters who are not focused on just having their own needs met, but the needs of the country as a whole. It seems to me that people on the far right think like Ayn Rand that selfishness is the greatest virtue and have bought into an extremely individualistic philosophy.

    I wonder if a requirement by every state that graduates of high school and college serve their country for a year might help. Each one would have to be sent somewhere far different from where they grew up. Send the farmers to an inner city to address food deserts. Send the city dwellers to a small town to address health care deserts or job deserts, if you will. Unless we think of our fellow Americans and not just ourselves when we vote, the severe divisiveness will continue.

  20. What needs to be included in this discussion is whether governments should be funding the primary election process. These are elections for a private entity, a political party, to choose its nominee for the general election. I always thought it wrong to have tax revenue used for a private entity in this way. It is especially worrisome when those same parties conspire once their candidates are in office to pass laws making it more difficult for third parties and independent candidates to have access to the general election. The race to the bottom described in the professor’s post that is caused by primary elections would be slowed if third parties and independent candidates could more easily challenge the crazy nominees once they face the general election.

  21. Perhaps changing ordinary voters into “party activists” is the answer since presently it is the activists who name the candidates from which the hoi polloi choose. Over it makes the point today – it is the uninformed masses who decide, but from a menu of choice in which they did not participate, and politicians of all brands (from Hawleys to Brauns and Munchins to Bernies) are encouraged as a result to distinguish themselves with narrow issues (e.g., guns, taxes, etc.), “making hay” out of the ignorance of the masses in the general.

    The “smoke-filled backroom” system has been both good and bad, a mixed bag, speaking of “party activism.” The system has given us FDR and Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower, among others whose performance or lack thereof has validated or invalidated such a choice of
    systems. I have read several accounts of how European voters in general are far more knowledgeable and active during their abbreviated “primaries” than we are here. Why?

    Perhaps both our parties are so interested in the outcome of the general that they have done a poor job in educating their uneducated adherents on the issues and the candidates to such an extent that such adherents become activists. Perhaps, and perhaps those on one side or the other of the present “system” with their panaceas have, like Marx, identified the problem but have prescribed the wrong medicine, as is suggested by Over it’s observation which gets to the root cause of the problem, a (Physician, heal thyself) position which I hereby adopt.

  22. Root causes:…

    – Lack of civic education, unlikely to change soon.
    – Gerrymandering, unlikely to change soon.
    – People moving to places where people like themselves live, accelerating and likely to continue.
    – A culture of “me”, not “we”, accelerating and likely to continue.

    On the tactical front…
    – Manipulating primaries to ensure the weakest opponent wins is rampant in open primaries
    – Ranked-choice is open to manipulation by highly partisan strong candidates
    – There is strong evidence that the election process is confusing for many voters, especially minorities; ranked-choice would only make this worse, lowering their participation or cancelling anything but voting for a single candidate

  23. The primary system doesn’t elevate the best candidates. I remember the Republican primary in which Senator Richard Lugar lost to a nitwit who thought women could not become pregnant when raped. That was one of the nitwit’s talking points. So, the Republicans lost a statesman and got a nitwit and the Democrats won that election. At least the Indiana voters weren’t totally fooled. I don’t know what the answer is, but the primary system is no longer it.

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