Presidential election season is too long

Governor of New Jersey and one of many Republican presidential candidates, Chris Christie (credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons) Governor of New Jersey and one of many Republican presidential candidates, Chris Christie (credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

As the calendar flips to September, major news outlets descend upon each poll that is released, dissecting the results and evaluating the effectiveness of the campaigns of the 22 candidates for the commander-in-chief of the United States. The candidates dig their toes into the party line, attempting to sway primary voters to back their campaigns.

September is an important time in presidential elections. Labor Day is often cited as the point that polls begin to carry significant weight and the public’s focus turns to the election. Of course, that is referring to Labor Day of 2016 and the general election. For the presidential campaign to take up this much of the news media’s airtime more than one year out is not just absurd and annoying — it has real consequences.

The first problem is that “election season” halts the political process. A good example is Obama’s Iran Deal. While diplomatic outreach to enemies is often controversial, it also usually gains at least some bipartisan support. No one wants Iran to have nuclear weapons, and many people see a deal — especially one jointly negotiated with several allies — as a meaningful alternative to war, which is unpopular with both parties. Instead, the deal has become one of the most politically polarizing points of Obama’s presidency as the Republicans look to foster ill will towards the president and undermine the Democrats on foreign policy, an issue where the Democrats are often more popular.

A second problem is that the election season being this long is a result of the blatantly undemocratic primary system. The system itself is incredibly opaque and easily changed, which gives the party conventions far too much say over who becomes president. The concept of “early voting” states like Iowa and New Hampshire gives undue attention to issues only important in those states, as opposed to other issues, such as corn subsidies.

A more compact primary would force presidential candidates to appeal to all party voters, not just ones in states that happen to be early enough to matter. While some people say this gives some citizens a chance to meet the candidates, there’s no reason that looking for grassroots support through meet and greets in a more condensed series of primaries and caucuses would be impossible; they would just meet with more geographically diverse voters.

Further, it also prevents candidates like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) from running on single issues (in this case excessive hawkishness) in hopes of pulling more likely candidates to their preferred positions. This is a waste of media airtime and votes that occur before the candidate inevitably drops out.

Some people say the long election season gives people more time to know the candidates, because it gives those running a chance to get their names out there. This argument relies on the idea that primaries tend to be more substantive, while general elections tend to be about getting entrenched voters into the booths. This argument is flawed, however. Very few candidates have rolled out meaningful and specific policy proposals at this stage, and will not do so until they have a safety net of some delegates after early voting states. They get their ideologies out, but those “ideologies” change so quickly as the issues meaningful to the public and the most popular positions shift that it becomes harder to reconcile the beginning of a political campaign with the end of it the longer election season goes.

A condensed primary would cut down on the amount of time candidates have to “evolve” and provide a more democratic system through more equally impactful and more informed votes. It would also cut down the years of our lives we lost while contemplating Donald Trump as the president. That sounds like a win-win.