Has This Been the Best Primary Season Ever?

Coming into this very long, harried, and intensely reordered presidential primary season, there was a lot of talk about how poorly the nominating process serves the electorate. The common argument seemed to be that the acceleration and clustering of states’ primaries would create a chaos from which no electoral good would come.

I’d like to suggest an opposing view: this primary season has been remarkably successful at letting the public come to know the candidates and what they’re about. Why?

For one thing, there has been massive exposure to every significant candidate, thanks in part to the scattered primary schedule. There have been so many debates that a voter would have had to try hard not to at least read about them, let alone see them.

But the second reason is, I think, far more important. This year’s primary schedule has forced candidates to act a bit less like candidates and a bit more like managers — and, therefore, a bit more like an actual President.

Think about it. The schedule called for a dazzling array of primary variables: some were public caucuses and some were standard private votes; independents voted in some primaries and not in others; both parties held primaries on the same day in some states and on different days in others. And then there’s the intense clustering of many primaries in many states in a relatively short time.

So what have the candidates been forced to do? Strategize intensely, adapt to a slew of different circumstances and formats, and, most of all, figure out how best to allocate precious resources — money and time chief among them — in order to optimize their outcome.

Sounds kind of like managing, doesn’t it? And it sounds kind of like making the decisions that someone like a President makes, doesn’t it? Rudy Giuliani, for instance, decided to forego the early primaries and concentrate on Florida, a brash and highly untraditional cost-benefit decision whose outcome we’ll know shortly. Was he wise to not squander his resources on those first states? Or did he sacrifice precious momentum by sitting them out?

I am not saying that the nominating process is a great way to assess what kind of President a candidate would make; I’m not sure there is such a thing. But I do think that, for all the anxiety that greeted this primary season, the public and the media have gotten a truer taste of how each candidate responds to a variety of pressures, the need to make quick decisions and strategic shifts, and the allocation of scarce resources. It just might be good training for something like, say, putting together a financial stimulus plan that works.

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  1. mgroves says:

    Assuming there is such a thing as a stimulus plan that works.

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  2. Lord says:

    Best of all, it will soon be over.

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  3. LRogers says:

    As a Californian, it has been quite irritating that our whole state is usually disregarded in the primaries. It was also irritating that when we moved up our primary to early Feb, so did “all you other guys.” I thought we would be relegated to the back burner again.

    But the good news: Because things are so up in the air, every delegate vote counts at this point, and I do feel that people are far more engaged.

    Bad news: With a nominee “chosen” already by the end of February (assuming the national conventions will merely confirm the popular leader), that gives candidates of both parties EIGHT MONTHS to self-destruct. Or be torpedoed. There is no way every move and word of mine for 8 months could be beyond reproach by people looking for something bad to say about me.

    On the other hand, better that the sniping inside a party ceases as soon as possible, leaving the sniping between parties. No sense bleeding the person who is going to be your candidate with a thousand friendly fire wounds.

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  4. AC says:

    I can see Dubner’s point, but when I sat down to vote in my primary, it dawned on me that despite my best effort to try and differentiate between the candidates that it was virtually impossible to know exactly where any of these people stood (except say, Ron Paul, who I ironically wouldn’t vote for in a million years).

    I kind of wish that there was a registry where I could see specific questions where people were asked to write out their exact plans for certain issues (healthcare, education, social security, etc.) I know that such sites exist, but which ones are the reliable ones?

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  5. Charles says:

    I never understood the benefit of having the primaries scattered throughout a few months. It just seems stupid that the media has trumped up 2-3 state votes that control less than 5% of the total delegates together as a sure sign of who is going to win.

    Also, I believe I read a paper that was a link from here about how a voter in the first primaries had about 20x more power in their vote than later voters.

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  6. Brent says:

    What do readers think on an idea long these lines?

    Set the entire nomination/election cycle to one year, beginning 11/XX-1.

    Six months of capmaigning for your parties nomination followed by all states voting for thier party candidates in 05/XX.

    Six more months campaigning followed by the general election in 11/XX.

    I realize this is a thought experiment as it would never happen even if it was a good idea. the early states and parties will never let go of their current processes.

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  7. The Darkness says:

    I don’t want to sound like a Ron Paul internet troll, but I’d have to disagree with the comment that, “For one thing, there has been massive exposure to every significant candidate”. Even Giuliani consistently gets much more press (this post included) than Paul even though Paul has beaten him in 5 states.

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  8. SH says:

    After the Florida election, it will become clear the Giuliani made a critical error in not competing in the early elections. Polls in Florida seem to show is support dropping with every caucus and primary

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