Editor’s Note: This post is the third part in a three-part series evaluating the current system by which the two major parties nominate their presidential candidates. Part 3 focuses on the proposal to hold a single National Primary Day, in which all 50 states and all territories vote on the same day.
The 2016 primary cycle lasted roughly three months for the Republicans and four months for the Democrats, beginning with the Iowa caucuses on February 1 and ending, for the Republicans, on May 3 in Indiana and, for the Democrats, on June 7 in California and New Jersey (though Sanders technically has remained in the race through mid-June). This is a relatively long process, which has led many to support a single National Primary Day, allowing all 50 states and territories to vote on the same day. In this post, contributors worked in pairs to evaluate this proposal.
Keshawn Langhorn and JaiCe Stinton
A one-day national primary is an ineffective method to select a nominee for the presidency. Unknown candidates would struggle to find the resources necessary to travel and publicize their candidacy. The candidates who are already known to the people (“big shots”) are likely to make a better impression on the voters by talking about policy and initiatives. Most supporters of this system believe that it would allow states that usually do not matter to have a voice and reduce voter confusion. We believe that if a candidate visits the state too early before the primary, voters would forget candidate’s positions or possibly confuse platforms. We also believe that the connections that candidates make during retail politics would be lost. Overall, one day for the candidates and voters to choose a nominee is too chaotic and inefficient to help the country.
Eric Brower and Jack Massaroni
We are against the implementation of a National Primary Day. We believe that the benefits of long-term exposure are more important than primaries and caucuses on the same day. Putting each contest on the same day would increase inequity of each state’s influence on the race, making large states extremely more important, and smaller states nearly irrelevant.
Samantha Coons and Marlena Mareno
Although it would be beneficial to hold a simple, equal, and more representative election, the negative consequences of a one-day national primary outweigh these benefits. With expensive advertising markets and a large “get out the vote” effort, only better-known candidates would have the resources to run a successful campaign. A national primary eliminates retail politics which have been proven can lead to a candidate’s momentum, as it did for Barack Obama. Without the grassroots efforts, voters would be deprived of candidates’ specific policy ideas, receiving the same stump speech from the candidates’ “pit stops.” The voice of smaller states would essentially be lost as candidates would focus on larger populated areas to win the most votes. Lastly, political parties would ultimately be neglected of setting specific dates and rules for their own primaries and caucuses, in which some fear this loss of control could dismantle the parties.
Emily Radigan and Cody Ingraham
We believe this would further convolute, rather than improve, the system. The competition between candidates would be heavily swayed towards rich, well-known candidates with a lot of resources. These candidates would have all the advantages in voter mobilization efforts and advertising markets with a very expensive contest. Additionally, delegate-rich states would receive the candidates’ attention and have more decision-making power. Smaller states with less delegates would largely be ignored, with few visits outside of larger states. Retail politicking would become a thing of the past, and not in a good way. The 2008 Super Tuesday primaries are a good example of what can go wrong when too many states are on one date, comparable to holding a general election. The evidence of this can be seen in how fewer states have held their contest on Super Tuesday ever since.
Amanda Knipple and Stella Pabis
National primary day is one of the most popular suggested primary reforms. Proponents of a national primary day argue that it would increase turnout and give people a more equal say in the election. However, there are drawbacks to the idea. Perhaps one of the biggest issues is that it favors well known and well funded candidates. If the whole country voted on one day, there would not be opportunity for candidates to gain name recognition or momentum. This prevents long-shot candidates like Sanders and Kasich from gaining needed traction. It also prevents a lot of retail politicking, an important part of the nominee selection. Candidates would instead focus their time in larger states to garner more of a vote. There is also worry that a national primary will result in a candidate who has not been proven resilient.
Aubrey Kirsch and Nick Pozzi
A national primary day may sound nice because it would alleviate the problem of not being able to get to the polls on time, due to jobs and activities of daily life. With a single day of voting (ideally on a weekend), employers and schools could more easily coordinate to allow run to the primary to fill out their ballot. But this day will cause chaos in the nominations system. Winnowing by election results would be nonexistent because, according to Barbara Norrander, “whichever candidate won…would automatically become the nominee for the party.” Winnowing beforehand would be due to polls and the campaign funds being allocated based on the polls, rather than due to momentum from electoral performance. Long shots would not stand a chance for they would not receive enough funds to remain in the primary, removing more alternatives for voters to choose from.
Kait Krolik and Brianna Russo
We do not see a national primary day as beneficial to the country in modernizing how we elect our president. Rather, we think this stunts both the candidates and how they public gets to know them. The candidates would never be able to gain momentum to gather resources and garner public support. They also would have trouble building a national campaign that rallies the population across the country to volunteer, donate, and vote. In addition, the population would not be able to gauge how well a candidate is performing or truly understand their platform. Instead, we would prefer to see a more structured system where small states vote first, never accruing the delegate count to guarantee a candidate the nomination, followed by the more populated states.
McKenzie Franck and Kevin Callanan
The national primary day should not be implemented because it would cause only well-known candidates to run. This is because people will not be able to raise enough money to campaign in all 50 states at once. Retail politics is also an important process for candidates getting name recognition. If there were a national primary, it would not allow lesser known candidates to engage in retail politics and they would ultimately not receive as much name recognition. A national primary day would make it so that candidates would focus on states with the largest delegate hauls. Currently, the five largest states are California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois, with only Florida being competitive in general elections. Due to candidates focusing their campaigns in either solid Democratic or solid Republican states, the eventual nominee may be more politically polarized and unappealing to the general electorate. In addition, since the nominee would be chosen in a single day, the candidates would not be as battle tested for the general election. A tough and prolonged primary fight against Hillary Clinton in 2008 may have helped Obama in the general election; it also weeded out candidates like Rick Perry, whose campaign spiraled after he could not name the third government agency he would like to eliminate if elected.