Douglas Carswell

29 JAN 2016

America's Presidential primaries have lessons for our democracy

Next week, the Iowa caucuses kick off the US Presidential race in earnest. So far, British coverage has been transfixed by Donald Trump. But the Presidential primaries are much more interesting for what they can teach us about democracy.

Different states' electoral systems embody different models of democracy.

The Iowa caucuses are relatively restrictive: only party members can attend, and there is only one caucus location per precinct. As a result, turnout tends to be low, and the candidates that do best will those that appeal to a narrow, self-selecting group.

At the other end of the spectrum, fifteen states – from Alabama to Wisconsin – have open primaries. Anyone can cast a vote – not just party members. That means the winning candidate is more likely to be someone with broad appeal.

A big problem with our democracy today is that a narrow, zealous minority gets to choose who is in office, while the vast majority are so fed up with the political class, they are totally apathetic. Democracy has been subverted; as William Butler Yeats put it, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

The aim should be to do the opposite: energise the best people to come out and vote, and ensure the winner has a real democratic mandate. The answer already exists in fifteen states: open primaries.

But what do we have in Britain? The Iowa caucuses are a free-for-all compared to the selection process for candidates here. A tiny minority of voters pick their party's local candidate for Parliament. Many candidates are special advisers parachuted in by the central party machine. Parliament has become a self-selecting cartel.

If we want to restore our democracy, we need to burst the Westminster bubble: open primaries are part of the solution. The rest is all part of The Plan.

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