Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dump Iowa/New Hampshire For Regional Primaries

Our electoral system is broken. The Electoral College system was designed to require primary candidates to attract votes from large states, as well as a small states, from rural states as well as urbanized states, from rich and poor, and from north, south, east and west. But our system no longer works that way because two states all but decide the outcome: Iowa and New Hampshire. This needs to change, especially because Iowa and New Hampshire are highly idiosyncratic states.

Iowa is a small farm state that is dominated by evangelical Christians on the right and socialist farmers on the left. If a candidate is not a member of the religious right, then they cannot win the Republican endorsement. And if a candidate is not an old-school socialist, then they cannot win the Democratic endorsement. Making this all the worse, Iowa uses a caucus system that lets votes be traded at the time of voting and which places an emphasis on getting voters to the right precincts in sufficient numbers to carry the precinct. Finding a less democratic system would be difficult.

New Hampshire is the opposite side of the same coin. Indeed, while New Hampshirites talk about the state’s conservative past, it’s not a conservatism that the rest of the country would recognize. It’s more like a big-government, elitist, country-club “conservatism.” The Democrats have a similar problem in that New Hampshire Democrats are more like their Alabama cousins, only richer, than their California comrades. Indeed, what comes out of New Hampshire (on both sides) is basically politics through the lens of elitists, who value the establishment above all else.

In and of itself, the idiosyncrasies of these two states would be meaningless, as they are so small. But they’ve been assigned a leading place in the primary season, which is what’s causing the problem we’re having with finding good candidates. Indeed, Iowa voters go to the polls first, where they select right wing and left wing extremists, both of very specific types. Then New Hampshire follows a little later, where they select the most “establishment” candidate. At that point, most of the other candidates will drop out of the race -- even when candidates survive losing both of these primaries, it’s rare that such candidates will be able to continue much longer. Thus, the choices voters appeared to have when the primary season began were actually an illusion as only candidates who fit the Iowa or new Hampshire mold could make it to the next round. This causes too many good candidates to fail before a single person in any other state gets the chance to vote for them.

So how do we fix this?

First, lets acknowledge that the country can legitimately be broken into different regions with relatively homogeneous beliefs found within each region: the Northeast, the South, the Rust-Belt, the mid-West, the West, and the West Coast. Each of these regions has largely similar views, though those views can clash wildly with other regions. Thus, voters within the Rust-Belt are much more likely to think like other Rust-Belt voters than West Coast voters or Southern voters.

Because of this, a series of super-primaries would be appropriate. For example, one week all of the states in the West could vote. A week or two later, the Rust Belt might vote, and then the South, etc. This would let the voters of each region make their selections at the same time.

Why do this? For one thing, this undoes the Iowa/New Hampshire problem because not all of the states in these regions are as intellectually narrow as Iowa or New Hampshire. In other words, while Iowa may be dominated by Type X people, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota are not cloned copied of Iowa. This makes the first primary more meaningful because the candidates would need to broaden the scope of their appeal to survive the first primary hurdle. No longer could they spend two years focused like a laser beam on just one state, hoping that a victory there will suffice.

So why not just have every state vote at once in a mega-primary? Two reasons. First, if we switched to a single primary, then we face the same problems we face with a national popular vote -- politicians will concentrate in voter-rich areas and will ignore smaller areas. That means they will begin pandering to big cities. Secondly, often times we don’t know what’s good or bad about a candidate until later in the process, e.g. after we see them recover from a loss or do something stupid just as they begin winning. A single primary day would let bad candidates hide their flaws because we would not see them having to adjust to wins and loses. It would also prevent good candidates from recovering from early mistakes.

But which region should go first? It should rotate. This is key. By rotating the order of the regions, politicians could not adopt the current strategy of simply trying to make their image perfect for the lead off states. Again, this means less pandering and more broad-based appeals.

Right now, Iowa and New Hampshire all but choose our nominees for us. But neither state fits in with the other 48 states. Thus, this system needs to change if we are to find conservative (and liberal) candidates who are more satisfactory to the country at large. A series of rotating regional primaries should eliminate those problems while still providing a sufficient proving ground to allow us to evaluate the candidates.

What do you think? And what, if anything, would you change about the primary system?


Notawonk said...

holy smokes, i have been beating this drum for awhile and haven't really seen much in the way of an alternative. the idea offered about rotating makes me pause, even though it is most likely the fairest way. made me immediately think of cities vying for the olympics (i understand there would be none of that, just made me hesitate).

but other than that slight blip, i'm in. really well done.

Tennessee Jed said...

As a possible alternative to rotation, maybe the key is to set up 4 or 5 super primaries that have a mixture of states from each region. This way candidates can't simply taylor their message to the region whose turn it is to go first in a particular election year. That keeps all the good things you mention in tact (multiple opportunities to see and judge contenders, etc.)

There are two other things that I think factor in to the broken system. First the parties need to find a way to keep the other party from influencing one's own primary. Second, the media had done a piss poor job, of doing interesting non-spin stories on the contenders. Most people, sadly, react only to names they know which usually translate to television news coverage which is shallow, vapid, and biased.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Patti. The rotating idea isn't ideal, but I'm not sure how to do it better -- otherwise you end up with a group of states replacing the Iowa/New Hampshire issue. If you rotate, then different part of the country would have the first, second, third say every time.

I'm open to alternatives!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I didn't go into other changes, but you're right -- they should close the primaries to only party voters (that's the benefit of membership) and I would say that you should need to register before any of the primaries begin so people can't flip parties at the last minute. I would also ban caucuses and require primaries in all states.

You're right about the media, and I honestly don't know what the solution is. The media won't change.... I don't think they can. The politicians like it because it's easier to sell yourself as a series of quick images than as a political philosophy. And the public, sadly, has a short attention span.

I think the only key I can offer is for the more thoughtful members of the public to do the research, dig into who is good and who is bad, and push the rest. That's kind of what the Tea Party did and why so many incumbents were shocked to find that whole masses of people suddenly organized themselves around someone unexpected.

In terms of mixing the regions, that's a possibility, but I still like the rotating idea because if the same states go first/second each time, then the states in the last 2-3 still are likely to be presented with only 1-2 candidates during each election. In the rotating system, each region will have the power of being first or second every so often.

Ed said...

Good ideas! I like the rotating idea because the system always seems biased toward the East. I'd like to see the West vote first for once. I also agree about closing the primaries.

Anonymous said...

RE: The conventional wisdom is faulty that we'd "face the same problems we face with a national popular vote -- politicians will concentrate in voter-rich areas and will ignore smaller areas. That means they will begin pandering to big cities."

The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004. A “big city” only campaign would not win.

For example, in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate can’t and don’t just win in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Big cities don’t control even state outcomes (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles.

Candidates need to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a "big city" approach would not likely win.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, The only two ways I can think of that lead to a fair distribution of "relevance" would be a single primary or a rotating primary, but I'm open to other ideas.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, If you are the same person who has previously posted the argument about the national popular vote, then I repeat that your logic is entirely flawed from top to bottom. If not, then let me say for the first time that your logic is flawed from top to bottom.

Let's start with your claim that only 19% of the population live in the 50 largest cities. What you ignore is that modern American cities are much larger than their geographic zones. Thus, Denver is actually a smallish city when you look only at what is technically Denver. But when you include the surrounding metro area, you suddenly mushroom into the millions and you get half the state's population. Every other major American city is the same. Thus, counting only the people who live within the technical boundaries rather than the entire metro areas is flawed reasoning.

Census data show that 80% of the American public lives in urban areas -- those are the metro areas that you ignore.

Those are also where the votes are. The idea that the other 21% are anywhere near as important as the 80% is simply ridiculous. And the reason that's true is precisely the thing you don't seem to understand when you claim that a vote in a rural area has the same value as a vote in a voter-rich urban area: the cost of obtaining that vote.

You don't seem to get that it takes time and money to reach voters. No politician with a brain is going to spend days touring small towns looking for a handful of votes when they can get the same number of votes by visiting a shopping center in downtown Big City USA. Think about it. If you were trying to sell a product, would you go door to door in South Dakota or would you rather set up a booth in the world's biggest mall?

That's why politicians spend their days (apart from rare photo-ops) in the biggest cities within their states, that's why they do fund raising in big cities, that's why they spend so heavily in large media markets, that's why petition-signature gatherers spend their days standing in front of the stores with the heaviest traffic. Your idea that somehow politicians are going to wander the countryside looking for individual voters is either a fantasy or an intentional distortion to support your claim.

Ed said...

I can't think of any other way.

Nice rebuttal to this anonymous poster. Where did he post before?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yes, our friend has posted before -- unfortunately, I can't find the posts as they weren't in an article that dealt with this topic. Basically, it was several screens full of statistics that didn't mean what the poster thought they meant.

Ed said...

The national vote idea is pretty obviously a try to help liberals. When they can't win, they try to change the rules to give them a helping hand. I'm sick of it.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

It's long overdue for an overhaul. And like Jed said, we also need to close the primaries. Even if we couldn't get the rotating primaries, I'd still like to see one national primary day. Would we need a national law to make this happen?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That's how I see it and it's no surprise that it's liberals are the ones backing this.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Therein lies the rub. By and large, the issue of elections is a state issue and it's not clear if the Feds have any right to pass a law changing the electoral system or not. That would depend on whether or not the Supreme Court found that the states' rights to regulate elections is a constitutional right, or is just something the feds haven't regulated yet but can regulate. Judging on the Bush v. Gore decision, I would say the Supreme Court will look very unfavorably on any federal law that imposes requirements on the states on this issue.

That said, however, the feds can pass a law offering goodies if the states agree to change their law. The Supreme Court allows that unless there is coercion in the law.

So what we would probably need would be some form of inter-state compact to make this happen, and you can be sure that neither Iowa nor New Hampshire would agree. However, if every other state started forming up into the primaries, then Iowa and New Hampshire would very quickly become irrelevant.

But the short answer is that this will probably require a state by state battle -- which will prove very difficult in liberal states.

Unknown said...

I like the way the Electoral College is set up, and it avoids the worse alternative--direct democracy. The College represents the states, and not knowing that along with not understanding that Constitutional protection is a danger to the Republic. The one improvement I could see would be a universal date for the states to conduct their federal primaries. It wouldn't change the strength of the small states nor diminish the large states, but it would damage the influence of ridiculously early and skewed results from Iowa and New Hampshire. But with or without a change, the current system has served us well in keeping out the will of temporary majorities and preserving the rights of the small states from the predations of the big state mobs.

Ponderosa said...

I'd like to see the two states with that were the least competitive in the previous presidential race go first. One from the 1-25 group(by electoral votes) and the second from 26-50.

So Texas (or 'Bama) and Wyoming would kick off 2012 (based on '08) for the GOP.

Only closed primary states would be used, with only registered voters.

The process would only last about three months and would start small and grow to a Super Tuesday in late May.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Agreed, that's my point.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, That's an interesting idea. Basically, you are picking the most conservative states to pick the conservative candidate.... and presumably the most liberal states to pick the liberal candidate. Interesting!

That one of the things I love about our audience, you guys always come up with new ideas I haven't heard before! :-)

T_Rav said...

Unfortunately, if anyone ever does try to change the primary system, Iowa and New Hampshire will throw the mother of all hissy fits, because it would make those states even more boring than they already are (sorry, anyone who lives in Iowa or New Hampshire).

Either way, it certainly won't be fixed by 2012, and I'm going to be one very unhappy camper if those two states narrow the list of serious GOP candidates to Huckabee and Romney.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's a strong possibility unless other candidates decide that those two states don't represent the rest of the states. That would make North Carolina and Florida big players. I guess we'll see. One thing I do know is that Colorado won't have a say in it.

I agree entirely that NH and Iowa would throw major hissy fits. They get a lot out of this process because every politician panders to those two states in the hopes of winning them some day. Heck, even Al Gore admitted that he pandered to Iowa over the ethanol subsidies, despite the fact that he knew that was a bad idea.

And that's another solid reason why this system needs to change.

Do they ever talk about this at the college level? If so, what is the college left proposing?

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I wish something like that would happen, despite (or perhaps because of) the likelihood that it would only mix things up further. South Carolina is highly receptive to social cons, Florida less so, so maybe we'd get a more representative primary slate that way. Either way, I doubt I'll be happy because someone who ran in '08 will probably get the nomination, whereas I really don't want to see anyone from that cycle running in the first place.

As for thoughts among collegians--to the extent there are any, wink--I think most people, Left or Right, realize that something is going to have to be done about the primary system, if only because it wrecks Dem candidates as much as Republican ones (Howard Dean, for example). I've actually heard the idea of regional primaries kicked around, as well as moving the primaries to states which are more representative of the general population: Missouri, for example, which would please me immensely (even though it'll never happen). Of course, the college leftists, being college leftists, prefer to tinker with whole new election schemes, including the national popular vote thing and introducing proportional representation. But then, I went to a fairly conservative university (for a public institution), so how far these attitudes extend to the general atmosphere, I can't say.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Even moving the primaries to more representative states would be a good start, but I think that is probably the least possible idea politically because 49 states would be opposed to any specific plan.

It doesn't surprise me that college leftists are still talking about racist garbage like proportional voting. Why don't we just set up a politburo with proportional representation for each victim group?

Supporting the national vote idea doesn't surprise me either. They've been trying to turn us into a direct democracy for years -- at least on issues they think the public will support them on. When it comes to other things, things they don't like, then they equate majority rule with evil, racist, clingers trying to return the country to the age of slavery.

Anonymous said...

There are numerous examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states. The biggest cities in those states typically voted Democratic, but the suburbs, exurbs, small towns, and rural parts of the states often voted Republican. If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

The origins of the myth about big cities stems from the belief that big cities are bigger than they are and that big cities account for much more of the nation’s population than they do.

The main media at the moment, namely TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. So, if you just looked at TV, candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

Evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. Constitution specifically permits diversity of election laws among the states because it explicitly gives the states control over the conduct of presidential elections (article II) as well as congressional elections (article I). The fact is that the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution permits states to conduct elections in varied ways.

There is good reason to give the states the power to control the conduct of presidential elections. State control over presidential elections thwarts the possibility of over-reaching Presidents, in conjunction with a compliant Congress, manipulating the manner of conducting the presidential election (and, in particular, their own re-election) in a politically advantageous way. The delegation of control over presidential elections was intended to guard against the establishment of a perpetual President (that is, a restoration of a monarchy in the United States). Under the U.S. Constitution, control over presidential elections is an exclusive state power.

AndrewPrice said...


Yeah, I thought it was you. Do you get paid for posting this goofball stuff to blogs? And why don't you identify who you work for? Or are we rubes to believe that you just happen to be a regular poster who just happened to come up with this argument off the cuff?

For the record, I told you before that nothing you say makes sense and none of your statistics bear any relevance... I repeat that now.

One of the dangers researchers run into is that they cherry pick their data, looking only for things that confirm their opinions and ignoring all the rest. What you do is worse. You toss out meaningless statistics and then claim they support you.

As for your assertions: do advertisers forsake rural areas? Of course they do, most companies do. That's what made WalMart so famous, they set up in rural areas where no one else bothered. The evidence is all around you. In fact, it should be so obvious that for you to suggest that companies don't ignore rural areas shows a finely honed level of either dishonesty or stupidity that really tells us we should stop listening to you right there.


AndrewPrice said...

Your assertion that cities must not be over-represented because Republicans still win governorships is another great example of you picking only selective data points, ignoring all possible causes except the one you are trying to prove, and then reaching the conclusion you would have reached regardless. Has it dawned on you that turnout is different among different groups? Or that the Democrats remain much more competitive than they should be precisely because of their strength in cities? Or that there are historic reasons why one party tends to prevail? No, you just grabbed the answer you wanted. Indeed, polls show 60% of the public holds conservative views, yet somehow the Democrats keep holding onto power in much of the country. That fact alone disproves your point.

As for this being a bipartisan issue, don't make me laugh. First, stupid ideas are stupid ideas, no matter how many people join hands to believe in them. Secondly, show me an issue that you can't find at least one person from each party on each issue. Your attempt to sway us with calls of "bipartisanship" is evidence of the utter lack of persuasiveness of your position. . . why else would you resort to peer pressure appeals?

What you post shows either the deranged mind of the self-deluded or the zeal and dishonesty of the true believer.

If... IF... you come back, tell us who you work for next time.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, recalling the early days of BH, you could have saved space and given Anon a one-word answer: Pie?

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Isn't that the truth. At least he wasn't rude, but this is clearly someone whose job is to run around and make the same post on blogs everywhere, and it's entirely deceptive.

Individualist said...

Here is a simple question....

Do Iowa and New Hampshire get more in earmarks than the other states?

Just wondering.....

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I don't know if they get more in earmarks, but it is an interesting question. One thing for sure though, even without earmarks, they get a lot of direct help "on budget." For example, the ethanol subsidies are a huge boon to Iowa, as is our trade policy based on cheap dollars and muscular attempts to open agricultural markets (with a near negligence of other markets).

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