Changes needed in presidential election process
Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, October 8, 2008
By By Steve Flowers
The presidential campaign has come a long way since January when two dozen aspirants were trudging through the snow in Iowa and New Hampshire. With that being said, I would like to share a few thoughts regarding our presidential politics.
First, we need to do away with the Electoral College and have a direct election for President so that the person who receives the most votes is elected President. Every American’s vote should count the same, regardless of which state they call home.
Secondly, the two early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire have a grossly inordinate amount of power in presidential politics simply because they are first. It does not make sense that two of the smallest states in the country, that do not come close to properly reflecting the American population, get the first say in choosing our president. These two states’ votes amount to less than one percent of the American electorate.
These two states get a full month of national exposure in areas of the country that are so desolate they are only heard from once every four years. Every presidential candidate is forced to trudge through the snow in New Hampshire to shake hands with the few people who live there as though they were running for city council. In Iowa, the candidates are relegated to chasing down every corn farmer to ask for his vote as if they were running for county commissioner. It seems very bizarre that presidential candidates would spend months and millions of dollars in Iowa and New Hampshire in pursuit of voters that would not constitute a neighborhood in most American cities.
All 22 states that held their primaries on Feb. 5 are larger than Iowa and New Hampshire. Therefore, if these two states were forced to hold their primaries on the same day as the other 22 states, their results would be so inconsequential the media would probably not even report the results because they would be irrelevant to the process.
California and New York have more than 50 times more voters than Iowa and New Hampshire. Even Alabama dwarfs these two states in size and influence. We have more people voting in Jefferson County than vote in either Iowa or New Hampshire. Yet, by virtue of being first, they garner enormous influence over who the Democratic and Republican nominees are going to be because of the bandwagon or momentum effect.
Momentum is essential in politics. As the states’ cavalcade of primaries progressed it became apparent that momentum was the engine that drove the train toward victory. George Wallace, the master of Alabama politics, once told me that he would rather have someone say he was going to win than that they were for him. Wallace knew instinctively how important the bandwagon effect was in an election. Also evident this year is the political maxim that more people will vote against someone than for them.
There is another old adage in politics that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This saying rang true when the Republican candidates ganged up on Mitt Romney. Huckabee and McCain constantly teamed up to attack Romney. They not only disliked Romney’s good looks, but also his personal wealth. Romney was able to dig into his own pockets to attack them and move on without regard to finances. McCain and Huckabee had to operate on a shoestring. However, there is another old saying, a poor man’s Republican will beat a rich man’s Republican every time.
Several new trends also developed during this year’s primaries. First, young people under 30 almost never vote so they are written off by the campaigns. However, this year young people came out in record numbers to vote for Obama. Also, negative advertising did not work as well this year as it has in the past and candor by the candidates catapulted them to victory. People love to see the real person rather than a packaged product.
My hope is that by 2012 a more diverse and varied system of primary scheduling will occur so that Iowa and New Hampshire, which are not reflective of the American electorate, do not have the inordinate power in the process merely because they are first. A regional primary system should be put into place to give other states and regions an equal opportunity in the process of selecting our presidential nominee.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.