In the American mid-terms, candidates who “should” have been rejected were elected and others who “should” have been elected were rejected. Incumbents cannot take voters for granted. That’s democracy: do the people’s work or get thrown out. In Brazil, Bolsonaro was thrown out.

Striking in the mid-terms was that extremist candidates were rejected. The voters corrected mistakes that had been made in the previous nominations. That makes sense. Voters turn out in large numbers to make up a broad cross-section of the population. Common sense prevails.

Not so in nominations. America relies mainly on primaries. Turn-out is typically low, whereby the decision is in the hands of relatively small numbers of self-selected voters. In such circumstances, fanatics are more likely than others to participate and hold the swing vote. That gives extremist candidates an advantage, and also forces other candidates to take extremist positions in order to secure nomination. A main reason, for example, that the National Rifle Association has disproportionate influence in American politics is that it can mobilize its militants to participate in primaries in sufficient numbers to get candidates to commit to pro-gun policies. That’s how it comes about that gun regulations are in demand in the population but do not get implemented in law. It is also in this way the Donald Trump has been able to exercise his malign influence in the Republican Party, a spell that broke in the these elections.

Also remarkable in the mid-terms was that the elections were carried out correctly and peacefully, and that outcomes have been respected. Elections have enormous authority because they are grounded in a rock-solid theory. We know what “free and fair” elections are and how they are conducted. It is therefore not possible in an established democracy to disrespect the outcome of correct elections. Donald Trump tried but failed. It was the robustness of the election system that saved America from his attempted coup d’état. Bolsonaro flirted with non-acceptance of an election loss but was unable to carry through.

We have no similar theory for nominations, no recipe for “free and fair nominations.” As a result, nomination processes are all over the place. It is for want of solid theory that we can make ourselves believe that nominations by primary elections, with their inevitable bias, are a “democratic” way of doing it. We are in need of guidance for how to do it better. The absence of such guidance from a theory of nominations is a big shortcoming in the political science of democracy.

Candidates who stand for election are tested. We have seen that on dramatic display in America. Candidates who seek nomination are not similarly tested. That also we have seen on dramatic display in America, where in many places it gave candidates an advantage at the stage of nomination to be truth deniers and conspiracy peddlers. 

For more detailed analysis, see How Democracies Live