Power Struggle

This is nothing new in politics (power struggles in general or this one in particular) but it is starting to get more press coverage – the question is, “Who controls the nomination process – the states, or the parties?” The struggle is most public among the Democrats as their candidates have now promised to honor the Party primary calendar. The Republicans are dealing with the very same issue but without the same level of publicity. The struggle between the parties and the states seems to be a direct result of a struggle among the states to gain influence in the candidate selection process. I am left to wonder how the traditional set of early states was initially established? Was that set by the parties, or by the respective states? (Can anyone enlighten me on that?)

In my mind the parties should not control the process. On the other hand, they are choosing representatives for their respective parties so they should have control of how those representatives are chosen. I believe that experience had led the parties to value a process where they largely mimic each other through the primary cycle. (I’m not sure exactly why that is although I have a few guesses) While I believe that states should be able to choose how and when they participate in the primary selection process I’m not convinced that voters win when the primary season is pushed so far in advance of the general election. Imagine if the candidates for the election of 2000 were chosen in mid 1997 and then had 9/11 occur in mid 1998. We could find that the candidates we had chosen were ill suited to our new reality. (I know that’s an extreme example – almost too ridiculous to comprehend, but you can’t miss my point) There’s always a certain amount of risk that changes will occur between the primary selection and the final vote, but the earlier we push the primaries the greater that risk becomes.

What do other people think? Who should control the primary schedule? What would the ideal schedule look like (in general terms)? Is the current reshuffling power-struggle good, bad, or neutral for voters and the country?

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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9 Responses to Power Struggle

  1. Bradley Ross says:

    I advocate a weighted lottery system for the order of state primaries. States with higher voter participation are strongly favored to have an earlier primary. The order would change each four years. I don’t know if there is a better metric than voter participation, but I’m trying to think of ways to favor states with voters who are really engaged in the process. The people of Iowa, for example, seem to take their early voting responsibility seriously, and I don’t think we should treat that lightly.

  2. David says:


    I did not expect to get such a fair and workable proposal. You note that Iowans take their early voting responsibilities seriously – I have also heard that the people of New Hampshire do as well – perhaps that is why they were first for so long.

    Obviously the weighting of the lottery system would have to be defined, and we have to specify how we measure voter participation (do you have any specifics?) but I have to agree that no metric is likely to be better than voter participation for defining which states should be the first stops in the primary schedule.

  3. Bradley Ross says:

    I don’t have a really specific formula I’d propose. It might take into account percentage of eligible voters who voted in the last presidential election, the placement of the state primary in the last election (to give states a higher chance of moving forward if they were late in the process last time), or the size of the state (to prefer smaller states and give candidates an easier time getting the word out, though that would be a controversial metric).

  4. David says:

    I think you have some good metrics there. I might add percentage of eligible voters who participated in the primary elections previously and it might even be useful to consider participation in local and state elections as part ofthe equation.

    I share your interest in weighting the formula to favor smaller states because I think it levels the playing field for the candidates and gives them the opportunity to meet the voters more individually rather than relying on money and advertising. I also agree that there would be opposition to that. If that were not part of the formula we might find that smaller states tend to be more participatory anyway so that there would be no need to factor that into the lottery formula.

    Any ideas on how to promote and enforce such a lottery if we could nail down a formula?

  5. Bradley Ross says:

    Enforcing the schedule will only work if the major parties really buy into it. For it to work, it would require some states, like New Hampshire, to change their laws that specify their order in the primary calendar.

    I’ll be curious to see how the showdown goes with Florida this year on this exact subject. Will Florida win, or will the DNC?

  6. David says:

    I am interested to see the outcome there as well. If Florida wins the showdown it might change the environment so that places like New Hampshire and Iowa are willing to accept a new system, especially considering that the chances are pretty good that they would be among the states with the highest participation among their residents and thus they would be likely to remain near the front of the nominating calendar under such a lottery system.

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