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Intraparty democracy is a pretty anemic democracy

Only 4.7% of eligible voters have so far cast a vote for Donald Trump.

Voters cast their ballots at a polling place on May 3, 2016, in Fowler, Indiana. Indiana residents are voting today to decide Republican and Democratic presidential nominees.
Voters cast their ballots at a polling place on May 3, 2016, in Fowler, Indiana. Indiana residents are voting today to decide Republican and Democratic presidential nominees.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party. But let's stop pretending that "the people" have spoken.

How did he do it? With the explicit, recorded, and counted support of what I'd estimate is 20 percent of self-identified Republicans. There are about 220 million Americans eligible to vote in this country. Surveys suggest that about 25 percent identify with the Republican Party. Trump has received about 10.5 million votes.

Voter Turnout

This is not to suggest that Trump's victory is illegitimate. Voter turnout in primaries is generally low, and in fact, due to the high-stakes contested race, turnout among Republicans has actually been up this year. Trump has won about 40 percent of all votes cast, which is more than any other candidate by far. And Hillary Clinton's 12.5 million votes (about 57 percent of all votes cast) represent only a fraction of self-identified Democrats. Every year it is like this. The culprit is low turnout.

Trump obviously has the support of far more than 5 percent of the country. There are many voters who back each of these candidates but who did not vote, often for good reasons. In some cases, they declined to register as a member of the party. In other cases, it's simply hard to find the time to vote as often as our democracy expects them to. And some simply haven't had a chance to vote yet. But all of them played no role in selecting the nominee.

At the end of the day, intraparty democracy hinges on a relatively small number of people. Let's lay aside the utterly undemocratic influence that early states have over the process. Let's lay aside the influence that donors and, yes, even party leaders often have over who is able to compete across all those primaries. The people who are choosing our major party's nominees are only those most unusually committed to politics and the party.

We might be okay with that. We might not. But it's a pretty anemic democracy.