16 March 2008

Improving the primary system

I think that if this years presidential election has shown us one thing it is that the primary system could use some improvements. As it stands currently the system favors early states, this is the first time I think in anyone's memory that the fight has gotten all the way to Pennsylvania and will likely reach Guam and Puerto Rico. While I'm not an election guru I have been thinking of ways that the system could be better. Here are couple of my ideas.

  1. Rotation: The order of the state elections needs to change with every cycle. It needs to change fast engough that it doesn't take the last person in line 100 years to reach the front.
  2. Regularity: There should be regular intervals between contests. This will ensure that candidates spend about the same amount of time engaging the voters in each state. I would think that 2 weeks is a good interval. It allows the candidate to spend some good time stumping but does not force them to skew their general message to the extremes of local issues as I think we saw in Ohio, Texas, and Iowa.
  3. Grouping: States should be grouped together into contests in some logical manner. I think there are several viable options. The grouping method would allow the parties and the states to allow for thematic sections of the campaign.
    • The sum of the populations of the states in each contest should be roughly equivalent throughout the campaign. This has the downside of pairing states like Maine or New Hampshire with states like NY. In this case Maine may be early in the rotation but won't get a lot of attention.
    • Group states regionally. (Has the added advantage of reducing the cost of campaigns by eliminating cross country trips)
    • Group by demographics such as average age, incomes, number of urban/rural residents, issue based (effect of globalization, mortgage foreclosures, growth rates, etc.). I think that race is the only demographic that should be explicitly forbidden from consideration for obvious reasons. That said I'm sure that when you look at things like average income it is going to be instances where that does settle on racial lines but the world is imperfect and I think if that can be brought up as a legitimate campaign issue there is value in it.
  4. Non-political organization: The order should be drawn up by a group of people who are outside of the normal ebb and flow of politics. I think that once candidates start thinking about running for president the first thing that they would seek to do is to gain influence with the committee who will selects the order of elections. Perhaps choosing the selectors well in advance would help.
I'm sure there are better ways to deal with the situation but I think if these ideas were implemented we would get a much better organized system. Additionally we would have a system that was dynamic from cycle to cycle as candidates are forced to adjust to new themes. Mind you any system in a contest like this can be gamed but that is politics. I think that anything is better than the chaos we have seen this year and the seven weeks of fixation on Pennsylvania that is just starting to occur.