Half of Americans think presidential nominating system 'rigged' -poll

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More Than Half Of Americans Think The Primaries Are Rigged

NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) - More than half of American voters believe that the system U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is "rigged" and more than two-thirds want to see the process changed, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

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The results echo complaints from Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders that the system is stacked against them in favor of candidates with close ties to their parties - a critique that has triggered a nationwide debate over whether the process is fair.

The United States is one of just a handful of countries that gives regular voters any say in who should make it onto the presidential ballot. But the state-by-state system of primaries, caucuses and conventions is complex. The contests historically were always party events, and while the popular vote has grown in influence since the mid-20th century, the parties still have considerable sway.

One quirk of the U.S. system - and the area where the parties get to flex their muscle - is the use of delegates, party members who are assigned to support contenders at their respective conventions, usually based on voting results. The parties decide how delegates are awarded in each state, with the Republicans and Democrats having different rules.

The delegates' personal opinions can come into play at the party conventions if the race is too close to call - an issue that has become a lightning rod in the current political season.

Another complication is that state governments have different rules about whether voters must be registered as party members to participate. In some states, parties further restrict delegate selection to small committees of party elites, as the Republican Party in Colorado did this year.

'SO FLAWED'

"I'd prefer to see a one-man-one-vote system," said Royce Young, 76, a resident of Society Hill, South Carolina, who supports Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. "The process is so flawed."

Trump has repeatedly railed against the rules, at times calling them undemocratic. After the Colorado Republican Party awarded all its delegates to Ted Cruz, for example, Trump lashed out in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, charging "the system is being rigged by party operatives with 'double-agent' delegates who reject the decision of voters."

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Half of Americans think presidential nominating system 'rigged' -poll
A voter leaves the booth after casting her ballot in the Pennsylvania primary at a polling place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 26, 2016. Nearly half of Americans believe that the system that U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is "rigged" and two-thirds want to see the process changed, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo
PHILADELPHIA, PA - On Pennsylvania Primary Night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday evening April 26, 2016. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, at right. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Surrounded by his supporters, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the media at Trump Tower following primary election results on April 26, 2016 in New York, NY. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - On Pennsylvania Primary Night, supporters gather and cheer awaiting voting results at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's victory party at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday evening April 26, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WHEATON, MD- APR26: Maryland voters at the Piney Branch Elementary school during Maryland's primary election, April 26, 2016. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KENSINGTON, MD- APR26: Voters leave the polls at Temple Emanuel in Kensington, Maryland, April 26, 2016, during Maryland's primary election. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
GREENBELT, MD APRIL 26, 2016-People voting at the Eleanor Roosvelt high school polling site on April 26, 2016 in Greenbelt, Md.(Photo by Mark Gail/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, pauses while speaking during a campaign event in Huntington, West Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Sanders' single win in Rhode Island out of the five contests held on Tuesday puts his opponent Hillary Clinton on the brink of the Democratic presidential nomination. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An attendee displays a Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, themed smart phone case during a campaign event in Huntington, West Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Sanders' single win in Rhode Island out of the five contests held on Tuesday puts his opponent Hillary Clinton on the brink of the Democratic presidential nomination. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz waves to supporters while being accompanied by his daughters Caroline (L) and Catherine (R) during his five state primary night rally held at the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Indiana, U.S., April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A few campaign workers sit outside the small polling location called the Simpson Voting House in New Alexandria, Pa., during the Pennsylvania primary election, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Pennsylvania voters choose presidential candidates, pick a Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and nominate a Republican and Democrat to run for attorney general. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during his five state primary night rally in Huntington, West Virginia, U.S., April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Marcus Constantino
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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has dismissed Trump's complaints as "rhetoric" and said the rules would not be changed before the Republican convention in July.

Trump swept the five Northeastern nominating contests on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The New York billionaire has 950 delegates to 560 for Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, and 153 for Kasich, the Ohio governor, according to the Associated Press. A total of 1,237 delegates are needed to secure the Republican nomination.

On the Democratic side, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has taken issue with the party's use of superdelegates, the hundreds of elite party members who can support whomever they like at the convention and who this year overwhelmingly back front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has repeatedly emphasized that she is beating Sanders in both total votes cast and in pledged delegates, those who are bound by the voting results - rendering his complaints about superdelegates moot.

On Tuesday, the former secretary of state won Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut, while Sanders won in Rhode Island. Clinton leads Sanders by 2,141 delegates to 1,321, according to the AP, with 2,383 needed to win the nomination.

Sanders has also criticized party bosses for not holding enough prime-time television debates and said before a string of primaries open only to registered Democrats this month that "independents have lost their right to vote," referring to a voter block that has tended to favor him.

A Democratic National Committee official was not immediately available to comment.

'ARCANE RULES'

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the U.S. presidential nominating system could probably be improved in a number of areas, but noted that the control wielded by party leadership usually became an issue only during tight races.

"The popular vote overwhelms the rules usually, but in these close elections, everyone pays attention to these arcane rules," he said.

SEE ALSO: Trump rips Cruz over VP pick: 'A pure waste of time'

Some 51 percent of likely voters who responded to the April 21-26 online survey said they believed the primary system was "rigged" against some candidates. Some 71 percent of respondents said they would prefer to pick their party's nominee with a direct vote, cutting out the use of delegates as intermediaries.

The results also showed 27 percent of likely voters did not understand how the primary process works and 44 percent did not understand why delegates were involved in the first place. The responses were about the same for Republicans and Democrats.

Overall, nearly half said they would also prefer a single primary day in which all states held their nominating contests together - as opposed to the current system of spreading them out for months.

The poll included 1,582 Americans and had a credibility interval of 2.9 percentage points.


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