I may have given away the thrust here in the title.
Anyway, now that we’ve looked at why the system is the way it is, albeit in a very simplified way, let’s discuss the how it’s bad for you. Our election cycle is long, expensive, cumbersome and distracting, and that’s before we take into account he ways in which it provides the illusion of self-determination of the people while in practice being fundamentally unbalanced and full of unfortunately exploitable loopholes. Let’s start with the length.
Depending on who you ask our current election cycle began with either the first formal announcement of candidacy (Ted Cruz, March 23, 2015, 596 days before the election), the first official caucus/primary (Iowa, Feb. 1 2016, 281 days before the election.) or when the first “expert speculation” about who would run began to creep into the 24 news cycle (sometime in Obama’s first term). I tend to lean towards the first once since that’s when campaigning really begins, even if it is mostly against their fellow party members. So using that metric, the current election cycle has been going on for about 41% of Obama’s second term. I’m just going to leave that here for a second.
The current election cycle has been going on for about 41% of Obama’s second term.
41%, that’s four days out of every ten. Just to drive the point home a bit more, the time between Ted Cruz and Jim Gilmore’s formal announcement of candidacy was 141 days. That’s six days less than Mexico’s entire election process is allowed to be by law. Its two days longer than Great Britain’s full election. It’s only slightly shorter than twice Canada’s last election cycle. And it’s very nearly Japan’s entire legally allowed campaigning period squared. And that’s still 6 months before a single vote has been cast in a caucus or primary.
But why is it so long? One reason is that we really don’t have any laws saying that it can’t be and there will always be people who want to get a drop on the competition by announcing first. This isn’t helped by the constant and previously mentioned media speculation pressuring likely candidates to make a decision earlier and earlier. The other reason is the primary/caucus system.
Thanks to the way our selection process works even getting to be the party candidate is a hideous long haul slog. The 2016 primary season ran from February 1st through June 14th and included primaries and/or caucuses in all 50 states and several territories, including Puerto Rico who get a primary but aren’t allowed to vote in the general election. And all those states and territories have different rules and regulations regarding how their primaries/caucuses are to be run. This means to make a serious run at being the presidential nominee for a major party requires a ludicrous amount of money, public recognition and a sizable staff to keep track of all the nuts and bolts of the operation, as well as to provide you a presence in multiple locations on the off chance that you are unable to collocate. This, of courses leads to fund raisers, glad handing, appearances, interviews, rallies, and the list goes on and on, just to build the nest egg and momentum to start the process of the trying to become the person that people will eventually be voting on.
So, why is this bad? From a purely efficiency standpoint, the current election cycle has been going on for about 41% of Obama’s second term, and no, I’m not going to let that drop! Psychologically, it’s also bad for the country, that much exposure to anything is exhausting especially when shrieked at us from all angles by the candidates and the media. It also goes to hammer home the fundamental tribalism engendered by the process. Two years of being told that your side is absolutely right and their side is absolutely wrong. It’s no wonder that both sides sometimes appear to irrationally close ranks and shut down at the slightest criticism. You don’t have to defend yourself to those people. They’re just (insert your favorite dismissive term for the opposition here).
But even if the psychology doesn’t move you. It’s expensive. Most of these candidates are working politicians, they’re on the clock, so we’re paying them during this process with our taxes. I’d love to see a breakdown per candidate of the amount of time we were paying them when they were visibly looking to score a better job. Unfortunately I don’t have the time, also I have access to sharp objects so for my safety and wellbeing it’s probably best that I don’t know. The primaries themselves are expensive too, very expensive. The exact numbers are a little hard to come by on short notice but The Independent Voter Project, a non-partisan organization, estimates that that the 2012 primaries cost somewhere around 400 Million dollars combined. It’s worth noting that 2012 was a year in which we had an incumbent president eligible for a second term, so one would hope that it was a “cheap year’ for the Dems in terms of primary expenses.
OK so working backward from Election Day, we have the actual serious election period from July 15 to Nov 9th. That’s about four and half months, not unreasonable, time to spread the word, get some debates in, pretend that people hadn’t already made up their minds well before the last primary, the usual stuff. Now in front of that you have primary season, five and half months of expensive grind and waste to get everyone frothed up. That’s so expensive that potential candidates need a six month lead up just to be prepared for the process of the process. And before any of that can even start the candidates need to be officially announced as they jockey for the most advantageous time to throw their hat into the ring. That’s how you get 596 days. 41%
But I’m sure it’s all good value for the money and time.
See you next time for why your vote doesn’t count.