Sunday, May 22, 2016

PF 2016 Nationals Topic - U.S. Primary Process - Pro Position

On balance, a one-day national primary would be more beneficial for the United States than our current presidential primary process.

Pro Position

Politics it seems, is more an art than a science. Of course I say that because I am far from being an expert on politics or the craft of running a successful political campaign.  Both sides of this debate will rely a lot on opinion and entrenched ideology driven by career politicians.  It seems in the beginning, the founding fathers had little or no faith in the ability of common, ordinary citizens to choose the best leaders.  Obviously each person wants what is best for themselves; a good economy, safety, low taxes, whatever. Apart from that, most have little idea about the qualifications required to ensure those things. People often look for individuals who have a proven track record of success in leadership positions, and who hold to a compatible system of beliefs and moral codes.  Potential presidents need to be "presidential", whatever that means. So when a man or woman proclaims a desire to be "your next president" what does it take for him or her to convince you?  Our current system is essentially a two-party system. Yes I know, there are other parties like Libertarians, Constitution Party or Green Party, but it doesn't matter when it comes to the office of President.  The structure of the electoral college and the prevalence of populous, winner-take-all states all but assures there is little chance of electing a viable third-party candidate. For this reason, most of the money and attention is focused upon the two major-party candidates and so the vetting of candidates; the winnowing; the process of narrowing down to the two opponents who will face-off in the general election is manipulated and guarded by both camps as they struggle for power.  This system of "primaries" has evolved into a extremely long and drawn-out process which is not only very costly, but physically demanding as candidates and their teams charge around the nation in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the voters. It's gotten so drawn out, incumbent candidates seem to spend 25% to 50% or more of their time in office campaigning for reelection.

Feldman 2012:
What we are left with is a two-year long process that invites the participation of marginal candidates along with those who can spend two years running for president. Then it winnows them out in a way that does three things, all of them bad: It prevents the majority of Americans from having a real voice in the selection of their party’s nominee, it encourages marginal and extreme candidates to spend an eternity in Iowa and NH hoping that an early win will catapult them into the first tier, and it often produces a candidate that is unrepresentative of his/her party.

The adage is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  The current system is a means to an end but do the ends justify the means? Pro agrees with Feldman. The system is broke, resulting in taking away the voting power of millions, it drains the life out of campaigns with high cost endurance races, and does not produce satisfactory candidates, forcing voters to choose between the lessor of two evils in the general election. Is there a better way in the age of the Internet, advanced broadcast media, cellular communications and social media in a nation where more people are graduating from college than ever before? The Pro Position says yes and the one-day national primary is one such method. Let the candidates run their campaigns for a period of time, let them fly around and hold their town-hall meetings, build popular support and funding, participate in debates, whatever they feel is needed to win, and then on a stated date which is consistent every election season, the nation casts its votes.  It is an idea which has consistently been favorable with the vast majority of ordinary citizens since the 1980s. (Altshculer 2008)

Feldman 2012:
The solution is to eliminate the conventions and schedule a nationwide primary on the first Tuesday after Labor Day. This will have the benefit of shortening campaigns, enfranchising all Americans in selecting their party’s nominee, and prevent marginal candidates

The most important argument in favor of this proposal may be the fact it is the exact process used in the general election to elect our president.

Thompson 2010:
Public opinion consistently favors a single national primary. Some political scientists agree. A national primary would have important advantages. It would treat all states equally, increase turnout, and reduce costs. All voters would have the same information as in the general election (to the extent that the latter is simultaneous).[9]

Popularity is no reason to win debates, but it helps to know and point out the Pro position is widely viewed as a preferable alternative.  Keep in mind, the judge is most likely a voter who is also frustrated with the current primary system.

Front Loading

The root of all things bad with the current primary system is based on the idea of front loading. Because the primary is a sequential process, some states are first, second, and so on. The race to become the party candidate, requires an individual to garner a certain number of pledged delegates which are won, in their various state primaries (or caucuses).  When the required number is acquired, that individual becomes the presumptive nominee (of course other rules are applied but none as important as obtaining the required number of delegates).  Right now, Iowa, followed by New Hampshire are the first primaries in the nation and yet despite the enormous attention they attract by both candidates and the press, they are among the least representative states of the general population.  Iowa is rural and mostly Caucasian, for example. New Hampshire is also, rural, sparsely populated and conservative. Often, party leaders in other states desire to play a bigger role in influencing support for their favorite candidates and so there is a motivation to hold the state primary or caucus early in the year.

Wattier 2004:
Frontloading is a decision to move a primary date to the beginning (“front”) of the presidential nomination season.  State party leaders have moved their primary dates to the front so that their partisans may have more influence in the selection process. Over time, more and more primaries have been moved to the front (“loaded”), creating nomination seasons with more and more delegates awarded in multi-state (“Super Tuesday”) primaries. [1]

A consequence of front loading is candidates can potentially achieve the required number of pledged delegates sooner in the primary season and when this happens, the later primaries and votes will have no influence on the outcomes.

Wattier 2004:
Critics prefer a “back-loaded” process that would last longer. A longer race, if competitive, could provide candidates more opportunities to espouse their policy positions, journalists more opportunities to cover the issues, and citizens more opportunities to learn the candidates’ issue positions. Citizens residing in states at the “back” would have a more compelling reason to vote.

The impact of front loading, arises from the fact campaigns may end early, sometimes soon after the first "super-Tuesday", and this destroys motivation for voters in other states to get out to the polls in the subsequent primaries; and why should they?  The contests are essentially over at that point. Of course, Con may claim parties have the authority to make rule changes which could limit front loading and ensure a more balanced campaign season but that argument is baseless.

Wattier 2004:
State party leaders—namely, governors and state legislators—decide when to begin their delegate selection activities. They not only have the authority to move those activities, but they also have ways to protect their right to decide such matters. State party leaders have substantial influence over national leaders who might propose reforms; they have even more influence over their state’s convention delegates who must ultimately approve all reforms. [19]

The Party Caucus

A party caucus is a means of candidate selection which functions independently of state governance and amounts to a meeting of sorts comprised of selected delegates who, through a series of procedures and votes assign delegate pledges to candidates.  This system of selection has been known to be exclusionary and discriminatory in some areas and would, by today's standards be in violation of civil rights laws (Flanders 2011).  Most of these practises have been limited by law and national party standards.  What remains, nevertheless, is an often complex and confusing procedure which can make broad participation difficult. 

Flanders 2011:
Some states run their primaries via a caucus system, and this may present problems even with the formal right to vote, because people may have trouble attending the caucuses. They may be held at odd times, or they may be held in houses that are not accessible to the handicapped or the elderly. They may also involve a large time investment. Furthermore, you cannot vote absentee; those overseas and away will not have the right to vote. In short, the caucus system may in fact end up preventing a large number of people from even attending or participating in the caucus itself. This, we might think, amounts to a denial of the formal right to vote as well. Barriers are being set up which stop some people from participating. To be sure, these barriers may not be as severe as a poll tax or a literacy test, but they are obstacles-obstacles that may mean that people do not get to exercise their formal right to vote at all.

Given the potential disadvantages of the caucus system in providing access to many individuals, the system continues in many states as allowed by the rules of the national and state party organizations.  As a kind of "private" organizational procedure, the rules are not subject to judicial review insofar as they do not violate state or federal laws and most private organizations are pretty much allowed to make up their own rules as they see fit for their purposes.  In this case, the purpose is to advance a particular candidate toward the general election.

Panagopoulos 2010:
Scholars routinely lament anemic participation in caucuses, even compared to primary elections, and the participation inequalities between these two types of nomination contests ignite concerns about the potential for introducing bias and misrepresentation in the electoral process. There is evidence that caucuses attract ideologically extreme participants10 and that substantive differences between primaries and caucuses will lead to systematic differences in candidate choice. [427]

Once again, Pro has isolated another fault with the current primary system which limits voter participation.

Meaningless Votes

One of the key tenets of democracy is the principle of one-person, one-vote. A democratic form of government is a government of the of the people and for the people.  Now I know we say, the U.S. is a democratic republic, not a true democracy but I don't believe the argument is effective or meaningful. There is evidence the primary process in the U.S. harms voter turn out and this potentially harms democracy.  Most judges will want to believe their votes should count for something, but often because the candidates are weeded out early, the later primaries and votes have no impact. It may even be possible to argue that federal law is violated.

Flanders 2011:
If the presidential nominee is all but determined by the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, then those later on in the process may feel deprived of their ability to influence the selection of the nominee. They will have the formal right to cast a ballot, but their vote will not matter. Indeed, the later a state holds its primary, the less likely a voter in that state will have any influence on the outcome of the competition. Some have even raised the prospect that this lack of influence, if it results in African Americans being denied an effective voice, may violate the Voting Rights Act." Iowa and New Hampshire, states that do have a disproportionate influence in selecting the nominee, tend to be racially unrepresentative of America.

Flanders expands this argument to suggest other potential rights may be at risk when one considers that individuals are denied the opportunity to vote for the candidate of one's choice because the nature of the system has weeded them out before the vote could be cast.

Flanders 2011:
If a voter does not feel that there are any candidates who adequately represent her interests, she may feel that she lacks a meaningful choice in the primary process. But does this rise to the status of a right? In some contexts, it may. Consider if the state puts onerous restrictions on the rights of third party candidates, so that few are able to run, or prevents a voter from writing in her favored candidate, so that she is "forced" to vote for the major two party candidates. Justice Kennedy, for one, has said that a voter in this situation may be deprived of a "meaningful" vote in the election. This is because the voter may feel that she is "substantially limited in [her] choice of candidates." She might feel that her right to vote has been diminished insofar as she has been prevented from voting for the candidate that she would prefer to vote for. We might also look at the right to a meaningful vote as in part a right for candidates to run for office. The individual's right to vote has always been bound up with the right of candidates to run for an office; the Supreme Court has said that the two sets of rights cannot be neatly separated. Individuals can have standing if their favored candidate is excluded," because part of their right to vote is bound up with having a certain candidate run. So just as a voter may have a right to a meaningful choice of candidates, a candidate may assert-if only through the voters-his right to be part of a slate of candidates on the ballot.

Candidate Funding

The charge is made that a one-day primary would favor the more popular and better financed candidates.  However this is based on speculation.  In fact, research by Irfanolgula, et al; suggests that early contest winners under the current system actually end up spending more than their fellow candidates. The implication is those candidates who need time to build a following and funding may actually require less money in the long run if a simultaneous vote is utilized.

Irfanoglua, et al (2010);
Consistent with the theory, in the laboratory we find substantial evidence of “New Hampshire effect” in the sequential contest, i.e. the winner of the first battle wins the overall contest with much higher probability than the loser of the first battle. However, contrary to the theory, sequential contest generate substantially higher expenditure than the equivalent simultaneous contest. This is mainly because losers of the first battle do not decrease their expenditure in the second battle; and winners of the first battle substantially increase their expenditure in the second battle, instead of decreasing their expenditure as predicted. Lastly, we find that subjects learn to behave more in line with equilibrium predictions with repetition of the experiment.[20]

The researchers extend their conclusion to suggest simultaneous primaries (as Pro is advocating with a one-day primary) are potentially more efficient.

Irfanoglua, et al (2010);
Although the analogies between our laboratory experiment and naturally-occurring political contests are imperfect, we believe that our findings provide valuable insights. In particular, the finding that sequential contest induces higher expenditure (and thus more inefficiency) than simultaneous contest is both interesting and puzzling. Previous theoretical and empirical research on sequential and simultaneous voting provides evidence in favor of sequential system (Morton and Williams, 1999, 2000; Klumpp and Polborn, 2006; Battaglini et al., 2007).20 On the contrary, the findings of our experiment show that simultaneous contest should be preferred over sequential contest because it generates substantially lower expenditure and thus better efficiency. Therefore, our findings provide evidence that attempts, such as „Frontloading? and „Super Tuesday?, to make presidential nomination process more like the simultaneous contest may indeed lead to more efficient political contest. [21]

The Pro Benefits

As I stated in the Introductory post for this topic, the resolution states, a one-day primary is more beneficial.  This places a burden upon the Pro to not only show the flaws in the existing system but more importantly to show the benefits of the proposed solution. So here they are...

Altschuler (2008):
Eliminating the advantages of small unrepresentative states and making every vote meaningful will lead not only to a larger but also a more representative electorate. Because every state would be represented, the electorate would certainly be more geographically representative. Turnout for the nomination contests is about one-third that of the general election, but not all groups participate in equal percentages in both. Although we cannot tell who would vote without actually having a national primary, it is likely that lower-income, less educated, and younger voters would constitute a greater percentage of the total, as they do in the general election, albeit less than their percentage of the population. The increase in the percentage of weak partisans and independents would depend on the rules, as an open primary would result in far greater growth than one which is closed. Which groups would be better represented would also depend in part on such factors as who is running, what the major issues are, and the competitiveness of the contests. [15]

The Pro debater will no doubt have a copy of the Altschuler paper in her evidence files.  Here is one important source which explains in good detail the direct advantages arising from a one-day national primary available without charge, on the Internet.

Altschuler (2008):
To sum up, a national primary would be a significant improvement over the current system. Because of the growth of front-loading, all the arguments against a national primary apply at least as well to the current system. On the positive side, a national primary would fix many of that system’s current flaws by simplifying it, increasing voter turnout, making all votes equal and meaningful, and leading to a more representative electorate. While there is a need for additional research—there always is—what we know now is more than enough to support the enactment of a national primary. [16]


Altschuler, BE. (2008) "Selecting Presidential Nominees by National Primary: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?," The Forum: Vol. 5: Iss. 4, Article 5. DOI: 10.2202/1540-8884.1206. Accessed 5/20/2016.$002fj$002ffor.2008.5.4_20120105083452$002ffor.2008.5.4$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206.pdf?t:ac=j$002ffor.2008.5.4_20120105083452$002ffor.2008.5.4$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206$002ffor.2008.5.4.1206.xml

Feldman, B, (2012), Time for a National Primary Day in September, Huffington Post, 11/30/2012; accessed 5/20/2016;

Flanders, C, (2011), What Do We Want in a Presidential Primary - An Election Law Perspective, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Volume 44 | Issue 4, 2011, accesssed 5/20/2016;

Irfanogluam, ZB, Magob, SD, Sheremetac, RM (2010), Sequential versus Simultaneous Election Contests: An Experimental Study, Aug 2010; accessed 5/20/2016.

Panagopoulos, C; (2010), Are Caucuses Bad for Democracy?, Political Science Quarterly, Volume 125 Number 3 2010, accessed 5/20/2016;

Thompson, DF, (2010), The primary purpose of presidential
primaries. Political Science Quarterly 125(2): 205-232, 2010. Accessed 5/20/2016;

Wattier, MJ, (2004), Presidential Primaries and Frontloading: An Empirical Polemic, Murray State University, “State of the Party: 2004 & Beyond,”, Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, University of Akron; accessed 5/20/2016,


  1. This is my final topic in high school.

    I want to thank you for all the analysis you've added over the years. Your analyses served originally as a launching off point into debate. And it's always been one of the first resources I've turned to when I start my prep. It's a little strange for me to think that I've been reading this blog at least once a month for almost four straight years, yet here we are.


    1. Good luck in the future, Mr. Retchin.


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