We’re 10 months away from electing a new president. Ten whole months with 10 candidates remaining in the race among both parties, seven more televised debates for the primaries alone, and we’re only two states into voting. I want to get off and exit this wild ride of an election already.
Yet here we are, almost a full year after Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to announce his candidacy as we embarked on this ride that has yet to even make its stop in Michigan. Canadians completed their recent election process in less then three months, and the British take a mere three and a half weeks to elect an entire government, but that’s simply not the American way, where we supersize everything, including the election process. Media stories about election primaries and Donald Trump quotes, all leading up to an event nearly a year away, take news precedence over the current refugee crisis overseas, the Zika virus, the Flint water crisis, whatever the heck our government is doing while all this politicking is going on, and even given higher front-page placement than the most American of all events: the Super Bowl.
It’s a fatiguing process, in which it takes five months of voting in primaries and caucuses just to figure out who will get the final nomination at the party conventions in July. Our society has advanced to a stage where information can be retrieved and transmitted quickly and easily accessed via the Internet. Which, in theory, should allow the process to move quicker and allow voters to make more intelligent choices without relying on months of debates and campaigning; instead, election season has become a slogging marathon race through a soaking trail of mud. It’s nothing more than an exercise in angering me, the American voter. Nobody likes the marathon, and it’s long past due to at least cut it to a mid-distance race.
The process began to lengthen in the 1960s, and the trend moved away from internally nominated candidates to placing emphasis on the primaries with John F. Kennedy’s candidacy. Along with the fallout of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the shift to focusing on the results of state primaries allowed for a larger field of potential candidates to enter the fray, which certainly makes the process more democratic by invoking the opinions of the citizens. The process also gives more time for candidates to be exposed to the public, and given the changes in polls over time, it does have an effect as the citizens begin to settle on preferred candidates due to the publicity.
However, along with the reasonably positive explanation for early primaries, the early start to the cycle highlights a darker side of politics: money. Campaign finance chiefs have floated out that at least $50 million to $100 million is necessary to financially compete in the primaries, a figure that holds consistent as five of the six leading candidates across both parties (excluding Donald Trump who does not comparatively fundraise) have raised more than $75 million to date. Months before official announcements, many candidates gauge donor and vote interest to test the viability of their campaign, lengthening the whole process even more. If enough money isn’t raised early enough in the cycle, candidates will find themselves massively underprepared for the marathon of campaigning.
Whatever combination of causes has led to this, the result is months of campaigning that goes on despite the majority of Americans agreeing that the season is too long, significantly over-covered by the media compared to actual news interest, and having mixed opinions on whether the campaigns are even informative. More simply put: It’s a massive waste of time and resources for something that should be carried out more efficiently. Elections take time, but the expansion of the process has only brought increasing political noise and tabloid-like coverage to the process for up to half of a presidential cycle. Far more important than any benefits of the primary process is the impedance of the discussion of important issues covered up by the never-ending election and the lost productivity that it entails. And when voter turnout is often low in these elections, such reasons are contributing factors.
Solutions for the problem of the ever-expanding election calendar including eliminating donation limits and thus lightening the need to court high amounts of unique donors, reducing the influence of primaries by scheduling less, increasing the number of unpledged convention delegates, to changing the primary scheduling as the parties have already done for 2016. It’ll take a combination of many reforms to curb the advantage of early entry and require the support of the politicians themselves, always a difficult task but for a worthy cause of moving toward an efficient model that better serves the citizens whom our elections impact.
David Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.