The 2016 presidential nomination season has revealed that
the primary/caucus process is not only very flawed, but
quite likely marks out an inevitable path to the end of the
two-party system as we know it.
This is a serious contention, but I do not make it lightly.
There is no “villain” in this scenario, only a failure by the
powers-that-were of the two major parties to adapt to
economic evolution, technological change and the fair
application of the democratic process.
First, economic evolution. Any nation, especially a highly
developed industrial one, is going to change over time.
The current nomination rules were designed for a post-war
society that was emerging from an economic depression,
and was enabling its ‘blue collar” workers to move from
lower-paying industrial jobs to higher-paying special skills
in non-industrial work. The G.I. bill enabled millions of
returning veterans to obtain college educations and
professional training. Most American workers, many of them
union members, had becomes Democrats during the 1930’s
and 1940’s. Management and highly professional workers
gravitated to the Republican Party. These directions are
now being reversed.
Second, technological change. In the same post-war period,
the communications environment was altered drastically.
First, there was television. Then there was the internet, Now
there is ubiquitous social media. A celebrity culture born in
the U.S. after World War I, and intensified by the movie and
sports culture before World War II, became a national
“entertainment” culture. The very nature of political
communication was transformed. The major political
parties and their professional consultants developed
patterns of political campaigning, but a natural inertia,
aggravated by the four-year presidential cycles, made the
parties fall further and further behind communication
realities. Occasional successful efforts to adapt, such as
the 2004 Bush campaign and the 2012 Obama campaign,
evidently are not fixed national models. Moreover,
national TV debates have become a central factor in the
nomination process of both parties, but if 2016 is any
indication, few candidates were truly prepared for their
participation in this key part of the campaign.
Third, fair application of the democratic process. The
emergence of “caucuses” instead of primaries in many
states are a deliberate attempt by political parties to
prevent voters from having a vital role in nominating
candidates at all levels of government. “Caucus” states
in the presidential nominating process are a flagrant
anti-democratic device that keeps grass roots party voters
from choosing the candidates they favor while enabling
party “establishments” or “special interests” a back-door
technique for imposing nominees in general elections.
Only tiny percentages of eligible voters participate in any
caucus, and many states which have them even further
complicate their final tallies with arcane rules and
formulas that make their outcomes seem bogus.
The stereotypes of both the distant and recent past are no
longer valid. Blue collar workers are in many ways
conservative, and since Ronald Reagan, have been moving
toward the Republican Party. Richer Americans, and many
top executives of the new industries, as well as white collar
professionals, not only give money to the Democratic Party,
but increasingly vote for Democratic candidates. The media,
once very conservative in its bias, have become quite liberal
in their bias. Social and ethnic issues have become generational.
Older Americans continue to vote their stereotypical way, but
Americans under 50, and especially Americans under 30, defy
The political parties almost always learn most from the
previous election, but usually do not try to learn from
what has been changing since them.
The 2016 cycle is not over. But so far there are four major
political parties in the electoral field; namely, a mainstream
liberal Democratic Party, a radical populist Democratic
Party; a mainstream conservative Republican Party, and a
populist nationalist Republican Party. Divisions within the
two major parties always exist, but I suggest that the
divisions in 2016 are greater, perhaps even irreconcilably
so, than any time in memory.
There seems to be an intuition in the general electorate that
none of the remaining presidential candidates in both
parties rises yet to the level these perilous times require.
Let us hope that this is not true. If it is, however, this year’s
election might prove to be like something we have not seen
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.