And here's the lede in an op-ed by political science professor Kathryn Pearson in the Strib today:
In my political science courses, I stress that the "rules of the game" matter. This is evident in Minnesota's caucus system, which purportedly values citizen deliberation and engagement in the political process, but at great cost to widespread citizen enfranchisement.
You would almost think that the caucuses last Tuesday night were an abject failure, not the most successful precinct caucuses in this old dog's memory. Any human endeavor is fraught with peril and the prospect of error. And there were undoubtedly errors in the process last week. But nobody who Spot is aware of is claiming the kind of shenanigans that may have occurred in the Washington State Republican caucuses this weekend. Or that the people who were selected to their district or county conventions fundamentally misrepresent public or party opinion.
But compared to, say, getting Hannah Montana tickets, or shopping the day after Thanksgiving, admit it people: the caucuses were pretty easy. The parties run the caucuses and they are staffed by volunteers. Keep that in mind when forming your criticisms of the process.
Spot agrees that "widespread citizen enfranchisement" is a good thing, but getting out of the Barcalounger for a couple of hours every four years to express a preference for president of the United States isn't that big a burden.
Professor Pearson not only doesn't like the caucuses for indicating presidential preference, she doesn't like it for other state and federal office either:
When it comes to the selection of candidates for state and federal office [other than president], the caucus system is even more undemocratic. Delegates to congressional and state conventions are selected at precinct caucuses in a haphazard way. Among the many caucus-goers I've spoken to, only one attended a caucus that selected delegates on the basis of sub-caucusing for specific Senate candidates. The rest simply took the names of volunteers with no discussion of the candidates whatsoever.
Of course, the reason that the people who volunteered to be delegates were not quizzed more closely about their choice for senator or congressman/woman is that most precincts had room for anyone who wanted to be a delegate to be one. From what Spot hears, that happened in some heavily-DFL precincts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, too. There was absolutely nothing to prevent anyone from asking who the delegate volunteers supported. Perhaps there is room for the discussion of a more formal primary system for presidential preference - and a discussion of who will pay for it - but what would you have us do for the other offices, professor?
[crickets] . . . [/crickets]
One of the things that caucuses do is test the organization of a candidate, especially among the activists; usually this is a good thing. But not always; think of the sitting Republican governor Arne Carlson who couldn't get his party's endorsement for re-election. (This was a shameful episode in Republican politics, in Spot's opinion.) Remember, the candidates are competing for an endorsement, not the nomination. The party's endorsed candidate can still be challenged in the fall primary, as Carlson did when he challenged the party's endorsed candidate, Alan Quist, and Arne thankfully won. But it's mostly the activists who will be drop literature, make phone calls, and host fund raisers necessary to get a candidate elected.
Caucuses also favor the better retail politicians. They are one of the few things that stand in the way of entirely media-driven campaigns. Spot likes that and says it is healthy for democracy.