Argument: The primary system pushes elections back in the calendar

Issue Report: Primaries in US elections


  • “The Primary Problem”. New York Times. September 2, 2007 – “A Wild West approach could also make the primary season absurdly early. States could keep leapfrogging backward over each other until their primaries were scheduled in the winter, or even fall, of the year before the general election. No one except political professionals would benefit from dragging on the campaign so long, or selecting the nominee so far in advance.”
  • Tovy Andrea Wang. “The Presidential Primary System’s Democracy Problem”. The Century Foundation – “‘Frontloading’ has incrementally evolved since the primary system began in earnest in 1968. Each election cycle, more contests have been held earlier as states have tried to outmaneuver each other for attention and influence. The parties have attempted to hold back that scramble, but to little avail. In 1972, 17 percent of the delegates were committed to a candidate by mid-April; in 1976, 33 percent of delegates were committed by that time; in 1980, 44 percent; in 1984, 57.4 percent. In 1992, half the delegates had been allocated by the end of March. In 1996, by March 12, 54 percent of the pledged delegates had been allocated. In 2000, by March 14, two-thirds of the delegates had been allocated. In 2004, by the second Tuesday in March, 71.4 percent of the delegates were committed to a candidate.1 To put it another way, in 1980, only one state had a primary or caucus by the end of February; in 2000, nine states did; and in 2004, nineteen states held contests by that time.
In addition to the problems presented by bunching many primaries into a small time frame—making it difficult for candidates with relatively less financial support to communicate their messages in a multitude of locations—reaching an early verdict also has downsides. Concluding the nomination process in the winter, for all intents and purposes, leaves the parties, nominees-inwaiting, and voters with a vacuum for the many months until the conventions in the late summer. That gap tends to induce the anointed candidates to focus on raising private money while the public’s attention subsides, reducing the amount of time that might be more productively devoted to debating the major issues confronting the nation.”