From December 2007 to March 2008, I wrote various drafts of a proposal on how our political parties — starting in 2012 — might adopt primary election procedures that would better serve our country in selecting presidential candidates. I originally drafted a hypothetical calendar for 2008, based on general election results from 2004. Now that we have the results for 2008, I can now propose a calendar specific to 2012.
The system by which our parties choose their presidential candidates has proven itself to be, at best, highly questionable — at worst, severely flawed.
The primary calendar we need most is one that is built on an orderly and rational plan — one that is based on mathematics and on recent historical outcomes — and not on an arbitrary, publicity-driven, system of one-upsmanship. The change I propose would provide for a more effective, equitable process than the one we have now.
The following factors are the key ones to consider:
Margin of Victory
– The state primaries would be placed in order according to the leading candidates’ margins of victory in the preceding general election — with the states registering the closest margins of victory going first.
For example, John McCain won Missouri by 0.1% and Barack Obama won North Carolina by 0.4%; conversely, McCain won Wyoming by 33%, and Obama won Hawaii by 45%. Therefore, the primary calendar I propose would commence with primaries being held in states such as Missouri and North Carolina — and would close with such states as Wyoming and Hawaii.
– The purpose of ordering the states according to the margin of victory is to help the parties determine which candidates can appeal to those states that have found themselves most recently on the Electoral Divide. A narrow margin in the general election is reflective of an evenly divided electorate. In this scenario, a candidate who appeals to, say, Florida and Montana is more likely to appeal to a greater number of Americans on the whole.
Iowa, New Hampshire, and Fairness
– Iowa and New Hampshire might object to this new system, given their longstanding tradition of being the first states to cast their ballots. However, so long as Iowa and New Hampshire retain their record of being fairly bipartisan states, they’ll maintain their position towards the front of the primary schedule.
– Just because a state should have its primary later in the season does not mean that that state will prove invaluable to the process. Indiana and North Carolina weren’t held until May 6th, but those two states might have very well decided the fate of the 2008 Democratic nomination.
– This new system allows other states to play a greater role in how the parties select their candidates. For example, Missouri and North Carolina would be two of the states to get the limelight in 2012. Likewise, based on the results to come in November of 2012, a still-different slate of states could have a more significant role come 2016. A rotating system will be healthier and fairer.
Groupings of Five, and Timing & Spacing
– By placing states into groupings of five, no one state will be overly emphasized on any given date.
– Candidates will still need to address the concerns of individual states, whilst having to maintain an overall national platform. For example, a candidate will be less able to campaign against NAFTA in Ohio whilst campaigning for it in Florida.
– Given that each state has its own system for electing its delegates, these groupings of five states will act as an overall balancer. Ideally, caucuses will be done away with altogether by 2012. However — should that not happen — states with caucuses, states with open primaries, and states with closed primaries can all coexist within a grouping, therefore no one system will hold too much influence on any given date.
– Racial and geographic diversity in this process has been a great concern for many. The narrowest margins of victory in 2008 were in a wide variety of regions — the Midwest, the Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic, the South, and the West.
– All parties would have an interest in addressing these narrow-margined states early on. The incumbent will want to win over those states that were most in doubt of him in the previous election, and opposing parties will want to put forth candidates who have the best chance of winning over those very same states.
– Primaries will be held biweekly, giving candidates and the media enough time to process and respond to the outcomes of each wave of primaries.
– Washington DC will be placed in the same grouping as whichever state — Virginia or Maryland — is closer to its own margin of victory.
– American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Americans Abroad — not having Electoral votes of their own — will determine their own primary dates, so long as they occur between the first grouping and the last grouping.
Under these guidelines, the proposed calendar for the 2012 primary season is: