Grinding out the competition
Posted by aogThursday, 30 August 2007 at 12:21 TrackBack Ping URL

I hate to write this in public, but I agree with Howard Dean’s stance on Florida’s primary scheduling. If I were in charge, it would be illegal to have a Presidential primary before March of the election year, maybe April. Someone has to start holding the line or we’ll fall back to primaries about the time the current President is taking his oath of office.

I realized, though, that the lengthening primary season is good for one group of people — professional politicians and their symbiotes. It is not only a great source of money and attention, but it forms a very high barrier to entry for any non-member of that elite. The question is, how can this trend be reversed? I don’t expect Dean to succeed in his effort, as minimal as it is.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
erp Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 16:54

Why not abolish the primaries (they were invented so Kennedy could get the nomination) and go back to the smoke(less) filled rooms and let the pros pick the candidates.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 17:18

I doubt they’d pick better candidates, but at least we wouldn’t have to suffer as much. Count me in.

Michael Herdegen Friday, 31 August 2007 at 01:19

The earlier primaries are because the other states are tired of Iowa and New Hampshire being King-makers. Simply rotate the “earliest primary” among the states, and problem solved. (Maybe choose the order via lottery, since the last-place state wouldn’t hold the earliest primary for another 200 years, by which time I’d be gobsmacked if the current system were still in place).

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 31 August 2007 at 07:32

I think it is a good thing that smaller states go first, because larger states have more delegatesto compensate. It’s one sign of the serious dysfunction in our political system that the early states are so psychologically important.

Also, I understand why other states wanted to move their primaries up, but it sounds to me like a cure worse than the disease. Why not get control of the national party apparatus and make the change at that level? I suspect that wasn’t done because it’s a tragedy of the commons situation.

pj Friday, 31 August 2007 at 10:57

If the primaries get spread out over a longer period of time, “momentum” will become less influential and we might have a higher-quality decision-making process. As more states move their dates up, the advantages of being early decline and the advantages of being late increase, so eventually, they’ll reach equilibrium. As for political pros having to work harder, I don’t see that as a downside. Likewise the longer primary season will do a better job of proving candidates.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 31 August 2007 at 11:16

But we’re not seeing them more spread out, we’re seeing them more front loaded.

The downside of making the professionals work harder is that the pool of candidates becomes smaller. I think we’re already suffering greatly from the very small set of viable candidates (e.g., the Bush and Clinton family potentially dominating the Presidedency for multiple decades). Longer primary seasons will make that worse.

pj Friday, 31 August 2007 at 12:49

Well, front-loading moves the mean primary earlier, and the response to the front-loading will be to move primaries up. New Hampshire is doing this, moving its primary steadily forward in response to moves up by other states. Likewise, campaigning is beginning earlier and earlier. Campaigns are doing much more 15 months before the election than they used to. (And you did mention a “lengthening primary season” in the original post.)

I think there’s a demand side to this: more people want to be involved in political decision-making, and they want the presidential candidates to be more responsive to them. That can’t be accommodated without lengthening the campaign season.

Why shouldn’t the Presidency have a long campaign apprenticeship? I don’t think the pool of viable candidates is any smaller, I just think that the scale of investment you have to put in to win has grown along with the wealth of society. Instead of climbing a ladder of elective office for 30 years, candidates have to meet with millions of citizens, and prove their fitness in some form of political office — but not necessarily as demanding a political career as they once had to have.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 31 August 2007 at 14:31

But not everyone moves up, so you end up with an ever earlier front load and thinner tail. The primary season gets stretched but the actual decision making process doesn’t, so we have ever more pointless campaigning time.

pj Friday, 31 August 2007 at 18:17

That not every moves up is good, it means there’s more time between primaries as the front ones move up and the back ones don’t, so there’s less momentum-influence and more time for Howard Deans to scream, and for voters to switch loyalties.

I don’t think the campaigning time is pointless, I guess that’s the difference.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 31 August 2007 at 18:42

I don’t see how it changes the influence of “momentum”. Voters can’t switch loyalties if all but one candidate drops out or becomes non-viable.

pj Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 03:01

People are influenced by others’ opinions, but their less influenced as time passes. If New Hampshire voters express their opinion on Day 0, voters in the next state will be less influenced by that on Day 14 than on Day 7. So spacing out the primaries more reduces momentum voting.

Therefore, the lesser candidates will remain viable longer, on the primary delegate clock, with a more spaced-out primary schedule.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 07:09

Hmmm. Let’s watch the experiment and find out.

pj Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 09:51

Give the experiment about 20 years.

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