By Teresa Welsh |
A national presidential primary held on a single day holds much appeal. It would be allow people in all states to participate in the selection of a presidential nominee where now voters in states late in the process are effectively left out. It is also possible that a single day would draw significant national attention and increase voter turnout in all states.
But there are virtues of our current system that would be lost. The early contests in the small states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada promote grass-roots politics, candidates meeting ordinary citizens face to face, and deep immersion in the political culture of those states. Don't we want our candidates to show that they can succeed at this type of campaigning, not just the mass-media campaign that we see in the general election and would see in a national primary?
And the current system is also superior to a national primary in that it allows the party out of the White House to get its message out. In most other countries, the out party has an identifiable opposition leader. In America, there is no official out party leader for most of the four years of a presidential term, and it is hard for the out party message to compete with the media coverage of a sitting president. A longer, drawn-out, state-by-state race with many debates may annoy some, but it keeps the potential nominees in the news and allows their messages to be heard.
Our current system seems messy compared to a single-day national primary, but it also promotes candidate engagement with real people and a longer sustained national look at the candidates. Chaotic perhaps, but ultimately a system that promotes deliberation.
About John C. Fortier Director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center
Terry Shumaker Former United States Ambassador and Democratic National Committee Member