I like to think I’m pretty au fait with American politics. A large chunk of my teenagehood was spent in online spaces like DemocraticUnderground and the political “debate” communities on Livejournal.
But it wasn’t until this post from News With Nipples popped up in my reader that I realised, “hey. I’ve been swanning around snarking about Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney, and *I* actually have no bloody idea what the primaries even *are*, beyond obviously a series of amusing debates where the finest of tea partiers can reveal just how tea their party is.” So how can I expect your average Kiwi-on-the-street to know what’s going on?
I turned, as I often do, to Wikipedia. That … kinda didn’t help. Those with a greater interest than I are welcome to jump on in to that excellently-written yet incredibly dense treatise on the process; here are, I hope, the high points.
1. The Dems and Repubs both pick their candidate for the US presidency at their national conventions. Which probably makes them far more interesting affairs than our parties’ speechathons.
2. The votes come from the individual state party organisations – think LECs – and “superdelegates”, who are usually former elected members and party leaders. Superdelegates vote however they like.
3. The states’ votes come in several hundred different flavours. Some allot their votes on a winner-takes-all basis – you get 51% of the votes, you get all the states’ votes. Some split them proportionally, in any number of ways. Some state parties limit the voting to registered party members, some states allow independents to vote – but only in *one* primary of their choice, Republican or Democratic. Some states’ primaries (or caucuses, fuck knows what the difference is there) are hard and firm about candidate selection – the dude who gets voted in is who you select at the convention, and some act as more of a guideline.
The upshot? The primaries usually determine who the candidate is going to be well before the convention. The early primaries – Iowa and New Hampshire – get a hell of a lot of attention, because they give a lot of momentum to the winning candidates, because they’re first, and because after a slow start it gets reeeeeeeeeeeeally busy – right up till Super Tuesday, when up to 24 states have their primaries on a single day.
You can imagine that that’s pretty much just too darn complex for the modern Western media to cope with.
It’s a fascinating system, in terms of the power of individual state parties and their little foibles, in terms of how different – how public – the process is compared to here.
It would just be super-awesome if our media would bother to tell us the first thing about it, instead of leaping in all “CNN BROADCAST THIS CLIP OF RON PAUL IT MUST BE IMPORTANT” without so much as, you know … looking it up on Wikipedia to give the NZ audience some basic context.
(Interesting sidenote: Yep, the Democratic Party is running primaries too. Even though I think we can all take a guess who the candidate is going to be. But … I can’t blame anyone for not reporting *that*.)
For more QoT goodness and a little badness (good badness, that is) head over to her blog: Ideologically Impure