On New Year’s Eve, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, announced her intention to run for president — a whopping 673 days before Election Day. In less than a month, more than five other major candidates have followed suit.
For the next two years, coverage of their campaigns will crowd the airwaves. But that should not be the case.
By the time this election season ends, my classmates and I will be planning for life after college. Right now, we have just begun the second semester of our first years. As Uri Friedman wrote during the 2016 election, parents with a newborn at the start of the election cycle will be coping with the “terrible twos” by Election Day.
Many other countries have laws mandating how long campaign seasons can last, and while their lengths vary from nation to nation, the longest don’t even come close to the U.S.’ Over the course of the 596-day 2016 election cycle, “we could have instead hosted approximately four Mexican elections, seven Canadian elections, 14 British elections, 14 Australian elections or 41 French elections,” according to the New York Times.
As such, candidates need to raise a vast amount of money to remain competitive over the two-year slog. Without it, they can’t hope to have the advertisement slots and media coverage needed to ensure that they become household names.
The 2016 presidential campaign cost about $2.4 billion; with Senate and House campaigns included, the total was close to $6.5 billion. All that electoral money could give every public school teacher a $2,000 raise every four years instead, according to The Washington Post.
Many nations limit the amount of money that political parties can spend on campaigns. In the U.K., for example, there’s a $29.5 million limit on spending in the year leading up to an election.
And “[Canadian] voters would not have the tolerance or would not accept a system where that kind of money is spent on campaigns [as it is in the U.S.],” University of Western Ontario professor Don Abelson wrote. “There would be a huge uproar.”
Ridiculously long campaigns weren’t always the norm in the U.S., though. Prior to World War II, party insiders chose the nominees in June of the election year, so the campaign season kicked into gear only five months before an election.
Once primaries began to determine party nominees, states began to move up their contests in an effort to become the focal point of candidates’ attention. The outsized influence that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina exert in presidential campaigns demonstrates the success of that strategy.
We clearly cannot return to this undemocratic process, but there are other solutions. Today, the primary season lasts from early February to June of an election year. With Election Day not until November, the whole electoral process takes more than nine months.
The current system favors the candidate who can raise the most amount of money, earn the most free media and spend the most amount of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Often, these candidates attract voters not by offering sound policy proposals but appealing to their sympathies on a personal level.
Since the Iowa caucuses now often take place in early February of the election year, candidates typically announce their campaigns a year in advance of that first contest.
Media coverage over the next two years will obsess over each candidate’s response to President Donald Trump’s latest tweets. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives will soon turn their attention from their legislative agenda and instead focus on their re-election campaigns.
If history repeats itself, the incumbent politicians running for the presidency will soon spend more time in Iowa and elsewhere than in Washington.
Americans are not content with this system; a majority has consistently indicated that the campaign season is too long.
When news spread slowly, lengthy election seasons made sense, but those days are long gone. People today can see any rally, debate or tweet in a matter of seconds.
While proposals to move towards a single-day, nationwide primary have proven controversial, we ought to consider moving primaries to a series of dates within the span of a month, preferably June or May of the election year.
Christopher Murdy PO ’22 is an intended International Relations major from Lido Beach, New York. His favorite part of of the State of the Union is seeing who claps at what.