The Path to the Presidency: Does our primary election system need reform?
March 5, 2012
By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer
If you watch television news or keep up with the headlines online, it’s difficult to miss the presidential primary elections. Every day there’s an update: results from another debate, a campaign speech, one candidate dropping in the polls while another takes the lead. Presidential primaries are the elections and caucuses held in each state to choose delegates to party conventions. There is a lot to keep track of. In this series, we’ll explore the presidential primaries, from the roots of party politics to the process of nominating a candidate.
With a complicated network of primary elections spread out over almost five months, debate pops up from time to time about whether the system needs to be reformed.
Some think that the states with the earliest primaries – Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – have an unfair amount of influence over choosing the nominees. In the 2008 election, which was closely contested, some states tried to move their primaries earlier in the season. The states of Florida and Michigan actually set new dates, and those states’ Democratic and Republican Parties were penalized for holding their primaries early.
The idea behind the ordering of the states in the primary is that the states with the greatest influence in the primary election cycle are the ones that are most demographically representative of the country as a whole. But other factors come in to play behind the call for change – including money.
To be successful in primaries, candidates need the ability to campaign heavily across several states, buy advertising and organize campaign offices. During primary season, you’ll probably hear a lot of commentators quibbling that Candidate A has visited your state 15 times while Candidate B has visited only eight times. You may be bombarded with ads from one candidate, but not from others. All this requires money, and critics say that the system favors the more well-heeled candidates while candidates with less funds falter.
A variety of alternatives have been proposed. For instance, some advocate for a national primary election – similar to the national general election – where all primaries are held on the same day. This could level the playing field in terms of influence, but would favor the well-funded candidates even more, since it would require all would-be nominees to campaign in all 50 states at once.
Other plans involve regional primaries – where the Northeast, South, Midwest and West regions all vote on the same day, allowing candidates to concentrate on smaller sectors of the United States in one period. A variation on this would rotate the order of the primaries so, for example, the South isn’t the first to vote every election season.
What do you think?
Does our primary election system need reform? Do you think it’s unfair to give Iowa and New Hampshire such great influence? Or do you agree that they are good states to start off the primary process? Do you feel that the primaries favor the well-funded candidates? How would you change the system? Or do you think it works the way it is? Join the discussion!
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