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Carothers: U.S. Presidential Selection Process Transparent but Dominated by Money

Interviewee: Thomas Carothers
Interviewer: Toni Johnson
February 29, 2008

The 2008 presidential primaries are being avidly followed, both at home and abroad. With all the rules for picking a party nominee, including the much-discussed Democratic superdelegates, some U.S. voters have begun questioning the extent to which the process is democratic. Thomas Carothers, an expert on democracy promotion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the U.S. system for picking presidential candidates compares well with other democracies. He says the U.S. primary system allows presidential hopefuls to define and present themselves directly to the public, which is fairly unusual for established democracies. In parliamentary systems and other presidential democracies, party insiders play a much larger role, he says.

Carothers says the Democratic Party’s superdelegates would not be considered a problem by election monitors in other countries. Carothers notes that while there are no international rules for establishing party candidates, democracy-promotion experts encourage “internal democracy within parties,” a criterion that both U.S. parties meet even with the addition of superdelegates.

Carothers says developing democracies would do well to mirror the openness to new entrants in the U.S. presidential system. He also notes the “all-in” aspect of the two parties helps bring together a society that could be more politically fragmented because of its immigrant and multicultural nature. But Carothers says developing democracies should be cautious about the dominant role of money in U.S. campaigns. Developing democracies should also steer clear of the focus on individual personalities typical in U.S. politics, because it can obscure important issues, he says.

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