Twenty-five candidates are running for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Twenty of them will take the stage in next week’s televised primary debates. So large a slate could fill two football teams, provide five sets of starters in the nba or be the primary cast for a Broadway musical. Though fields of this size are atypical compared with primaries in the 20th century, they are becoming the new normal (see chart). In 2016 the Republican field that included Donald Trump contained 16 other candidates. Party bosses recognise that having so many choices overwhelms voters and encourages candidates to take extreme positions. But doing something about it will require them to act in a way that to many seems undemocratic.
The parties’ current nomination rules allow almost anyone who wishes to run for president to do so. To try to minimise the chaos this invites, the Democratic National Committee set minimum thresholds in terms of polling numbers and fundraising that had to be met in order to be included in the televised debates. These are hard to calibrate precisely in advance. In this case the system has thrown up too many candidates for voters to evaluate. It rewards name recognition and social-media prowess, and asks activists to make decisions about people about whom they know little.