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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fixing the Presidential Primaries

Darren and I were at it again this week. Here's Part 1 of our email correspondence on the presidential primary system. Darren in blue, me in red.

Darren: I wanted to talk about changing the current primary system? What's your position? Are you for or against the current setup?

Ian: No doubt about it, the primary system in this country is in dire need of a shape-up. I know you have similar thoughts. What do you think should be changed?

D: Agreed. The primary system needs to be completely revamped. The states that hold their primaries first (Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina) wield an unequal amount of political power and sway over the politicians. These states are also extremely influential over the rest of the voting populace. But do the citizens of Iowa have the same needs or political desires as those in east Texas, Los Angeles, or Cleveland. Are these states so representative of the American population, that they deserve to be able to influence the rest of the country's nominations for President?

I: No, they are not. For years, when it was Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states in the cycle, it was clear that these overwhelmingly white, rural states did not accurately represent the desires of the entire nation. (Nevada has now been thrown in the mix, which alleviates 10% of the problem of the format.) This is a problem because whoever took the early lead after these primaries usually went on to win because people love voting for whoever's in the lead. But I must ask this: if someone from the tenth primary state has their vote affected by who earlier states voted for, how dedicated were they to their original candidate in the first place? It seems that they should not have had their minds changed so easily by Iowa.

D: In our previous discussion about the voting habits (Editor's note: linked here) of Democrats versus Republicans, we said that Republicans (in general) tend to vote in a more unified manner, so as to give their party, not just the candidate they support, political control. It's quite possible that after the populations of 9 states have voted for the candidate they want nominated, someone in the 10th would analyze this as a decision representative of the whole (the whole, being here the primary voting population of that persons political affiliation). Why wouldn't that voter think to his/herself if the majority of voters in 9 states before me want candidate X to be the party's candidate for president, maybe they have the best chance of winning the White House. This begs the side question, is it more important to vote for your party in the Presidential race or should you vote for the person whom you most relate to? Going back to your example though, don't Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have the most decisive influence on the voter from the 10th primary's choice? If what you say is true, then these three states have been shaping our elections throughout the modern era. If I infer correctly from your analysis, you think we shouldn't change the order in which states vote because people who vote in later primaries will always have their votes influenced? Does this mean you advocate a national primary?

I: I answer with none of the above. I think a national primary is a terrible idea. I also think we should change the way the primary system is run. My solution is coming later, after I articulate the problems with the above systems.

Let me start with the latter suggestion. Iowa and New Hampshire have garnered way too much prestige and influence in the primary format. On the surface, this appears unfair because they get much more attention every four years than later states, and this of course leads to politicians spending more time the there, and they shape the election for reasons we've outlined. But it goes beyond that. Early primary states have influence every year, not just presidential election ones. The most glaring example is Iowa's most important issue. Could a presidential ever come out against ethanol and compete in Iowa? No way. With an issue as important as energy, why should the fact that Iowa's tradition as the first caucus play a role in this country's policy? It seems unwise domestically, internationally, and politically.

A national primary is also a bad idea. This would absolutely eliminate small money candidates. I understand small money candidates have little shot as it is, but in a national primary, it'd be all about the money. John Edwards would be out of contention right now if it was a national primary, as would all candidates with less money than him. Is an automatic two-candidate fight good for politics? It might even be limited to one candidate. In 2000, John McCain and Bill Bradley NEVER would have made a run at Bush and Gore, respectively, if it was a national primary. They counted on success from early primaries to make something of their candidacy, as are Edwards, Romney, Thomson, all of the second and third tiers, and to an extent, Barack Obama. Clinton and Giuliani's national leads are much more difficult to overcome if the whole country votes in one day.

Would you make the case for a national primary system?

Part 2 tomorrow, where we dissect the national primary system.


The Culture King said...

You guys are missing the point. The real question is, are Primaries Needed? There must be a better way to figure out who is "the best of the best" without spending so much cash, drawing valuable media attention away from the 2007/2008 Boston Celtics, and generally pissing off the American Public with every robotic answer to prefabricated debate questions.

And no, it does not have to be a fight to the death at the Kumite.

I would settle for a few rounds of Double Dare, or the greatest means of determinating a person's true value as a leader, Competitive RPS.

I mean, they could hold the event at center court in Madison Square Garden. Stepehen A. Smith, Gus Johnson, Scott Van Pelt, and Marv Albert could host. I think it could save our democracy.

Edwards' first play...definately Paper....

IC said...

Thanks for the well-thought-out suggestion.

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