Is a National Primary a Good Idea?

The concept of a national primary nomination to select the presidential party nominee has been there for decades. The national primary has attracted a lot of support because it appeals to the simpler form of the modern democracy. It is still majoritarian, straightforward and clean. In the recent past, some proponents have supported a national primary as a way of tackling the flaws in the current system. In the American opinion polls, approximately 75% of the citizens would vote for a national primary over the current primary system. Despite the seductive appeal, national primary remains a bad idea. Close examination reveals that its advantages are illusory while the limitations are so serious.

The present U.S presidential nominating process is very complex and expensive.  In a time span of four years, the presidential candidates compete in different state contests during spring and winter and prior to the general election. The objective is to win the nomination of the party.  In the contest, a caucus or a primary is a state that consist of individuals who represent them in the national party conventions. During the process, the candidate with the majority delegates is declared the winner of the nomination (Kamarck 58). Presently, the U.S uses the primary system in the nomination of the presidential candidates. There are different types of the primary system and they include: closed primary, open primary, runoff primary and presidential primary.

Most of the argument on a national primary is based on simplicity. However, the question is whether simplicity should be the main driving force behind the nominating system reforms. The U.S political system is on its complexity.  Bicameralism, checks and balances, powers separation, and federalism are indications of complexity. In the presidential selection process, the framers adopted the Electoral College, and it is presently supported. This is because its complexity not only allows a tempered democracy but also a balance between the small and large states (Kamarck 99).

America conducted experiments using simplicity in the presidential nominations. However, the experiment did not turn out right. The congressional caucus was considered the most straightforward nomination system used for parties. In the system, congressional members of every party converged to nominate their presidential candidate. However, between 1800 and 1824, the congressional caucus was considered a simplicity model, but various defects outweighed the intended benefits.  The system collapsed in 1824 due to conflicts among the political factions, which destroyed the simple frame.

The national convention system replaced the congressional caucus. The national convention system was a nominating system, which relied upon state and local party meetings to hand delegates to the convention using the circuitous route. The system was decentralized and was based on the calculations and actions of the delegates and party leaders.  The complex system was ideal for the country and met its needs prior to progressive reformers making it more complex (Kamarck 103).

Just as the congressional caucus was a threat to powers separation, there is the possibility of the national primary undermining the major features of the balanced and complex American political system. Consequently, a national primary is likely to weaken federalism. This is because it will reduce the significance of states in the entire selection process and also minimize deliberation during the nomination process. Additionally, it will weaken federalism by giving the presidency additional powers. However, it is important to note that a national primary can only occur if the public is made to believe that simplicity is ideal (Kamarck 54).

The national primary is not as simple as it looks. It is evident that a national primary can symbolically destroy federalism. It will also fail to deliver the promise of simplifying the American democracy. Instead, using the notion of simplicity the countries will just trade the complexities and adopt another. For instance, there is a conflict between the plan’s simplicity and its associated democratic nature. The races in the nominations usually have more than two candidates. Therefore, the winners in the primaries always garner less than 50% of the votes. Additionally, in a national primary, there is the question of plurality. Citing Kamarck (56), the plurality rule removes the plans democratic element. This makes it possible for any candidate who has narrow but intense support to emerge as a winner in the nomination process with multicandidate. However, in the case of a run-off between the top two nominees, there would be a guarantee that one of them wins a majority, hence leading to a second election. This would diminish the simplicity of the plan.  Additionally, it has been argued that run-off elections attract fewer voters. This leads to people doubting the validity of the election results.

National primary proponents have argued that the reform is important because of enhanced front-loading of the entire primary process, which has been present since the 1980s. Nonetheless, the experience of the nation with front loading contributes to some intense argument against the national primary in the nominations.

Front loading is whereby a large number of states make independent decisions to align the primary elections into the primary calendar. In 2004, the primary season started in Iowa in mid-January and ended early March. Additionally, the primary season in most cases takes shorter time. This makes the voters not to have sufficient opportunities for careful deliberation or second thoughts. Following the 2004 U.S general elections, a section of Democrats held that the front-loaded system, which sped the nomination of John Kerry did not give the voters sufficient opportunity to examine the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the victory of John McCain in the 2008 general elections provided the Republican voters with minimal opportunity to rethink about their choices (Ellis and Nelson 45).

Some scholars argue that adoption of a national primary can address the challenges mentioned above. The 2008 Democratic nomination contest was extended. In the contest, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton had a tight race for five months. This proved that the current system could address some of the challenges associated with front-loading. Consequently, the 2012 Republican race extended more than expected.

Furthermore, Citing Cohen (38), the national primary is likely to worsen one of the situations linked to front-loading.  First, the irrelevance linked to later primaries would come to an end. This is because everyone will vote once. The small New Hampshire and Modest Iowa could not initiate a stampede towards a specific nominee, and all the states would be involved in the decision. In other words, regardless of how a primary national is organized, it is more likely to worsen all the challenges linked to front-loading.

It is also challenging to enact the national primary.  The proponents of the national primary believe that federal legislation can reform it. However, the U.S constitution does not give the federal government powers to intervene in the presidential nominations. This has contributed to confusions whether to support the national primary or abandon it (Kamarck 107).

In conclusion, the national primary should not be accepted. This is because it provides a simplicity that is not only undesirable but also illusory. The federal government does not have the powers to impose national primary. A national primary would solve one of the challenges associated with front-loading in the primary nominations. However, the states lose meaningful participation, particularly by those who vote late, other problems are likely to be exacerbated. Therefore, even though the intentions of the national primary are noble, the nation can do better.


Works Cited

Cohen, Marty. The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform.      Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Ellis, J. Richard and Nelson, Michael. Debating the Presidency: Conflicting Perspectives on         the American Executive. New York: CQ Press, 2014.

Kamarck, Elaine. Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about how America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates. Brookings Institution Press, 2015.




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