Democrats consider presidential primary reform


Procedural changes to the nomination of presidential candidates could significantly alter the future of American politics

Article Image

Image by Tim Sackton

By Gracie Daw

Presidential primary season is one of the most important events in US politics. It is when a party chooses their nominee for President of the United States and, at the moment, people are starting to whisper about who will be in the running. Will Biden go for it? How will Trump’s campaign fare?

However, these whispers are not the only developments concerning the presidential primaries. The Democrats are also debating a shake-up in the order of their presidential primaries, which could have significant impacts on the process.

States typically vote in a set order, starting with Iowa and New Hampshire, then followed by Nevada and South Carolina in the run-up to ‘Super Tuesday’, where the majority of states decide their primary candidate. Whilst the order that states vote in might appear to be a small thing and purely procedural, it will have an enormous impact on the process. Winning an early state can lend momentum to a campaign and propel candidates with minimal funds or name recognition towards the presidency.

This is exactly what happened to Barack Obama in 2008: his main opponent was Hillary Clinton, who, having been First Lady for eight years and a Senator for New York for another eight, had not only national, but international name recognition. Although he was a rising figure in US politics, he was not at the same level – but a win in Iowa gave him the national headlines he needed to succeed in the rest of the contest.

Campaigning in Iowa or New Hampshire, is very different from the traditional campaign that we are more familiar with. Candidates spend months in these states and have one-on-one conversations with voters, often being hosted in their living rooms. This allows voters to understand a candidate and to choose the best one having analysed every policy position, so much so that they are often called professional voters.

The argument against keeping Iowa and New Hampshire as early states is that neither state is representative of America as a whole. They are both majority white, small, rural states, and therefore many say that they should not be given significant power over presidential candidates. This is the argument that President Biden took on when he wrote to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) last week proposing that South Carolina should become the first state.

This is something which would have favoured him, as his 2020 presidential bid was flailing after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire but was quickly revived by an overwhelming win in South Carolina. Some have argued that North Carolina would be a better choice for the Democrats, since North Carolina is more of a swing state, meaning that earlier campaigning there could help in the presidential general election.

The current agreement among Democrats is to move the South Carolina primary first, before having Nevada and New Hampshire vote on the same day, and then Georgia and Michigan. This has been met with approval by those moved up in the pecking order and disdain by those who have been dropped. New Hampshire lawmakers have largely criticised the decision whilst also noting that they have a state law which says that New Hampshire must hold their primary first.

The move to bring Georgia and Michigan towards the beginning of the process is also notable. Georgia is proving to be a significant battleground state, with their Senate race going to run-offs twice in the past two years. Furthermore, Michigan is still tight, though Democrat leaning, and moving it up shows the importance of the midwest to the modern party.

Holding early primaries there will encourage Democratic candidates to campaign in these states earlier, giving the party a leg up in the presidential election. It is also intended to ensure that a wider range of voters will have an earlier choice of candidates, meaning that the candidate who can gather the greatest range of supporters will succeed, ultimately helping the party hold on to the White House.

It will not be formally decided until early next year, but this shake-up will have significant effects on the state of US politics as it could ultimately change who is elected president. Alongside the change in order, Biden has also pushed the committee to get rid of caucuses, which are a method of voting whereby voters in an area gather in a hall and debate in order to choose their candidate.

The process is thought to be archaic by many and ultimately excludes many who cannot make the designated date and time of the caucus. Furthermore, in Iowa in 2020, they used an app to count the results which malfunctioned on the night, meaning that the results were not finalised for weeks, disrupting the rhythm of the campaign.

The DNC will have to vote on the current proposals in a process which could prove fraught as many want to protect their state’s position in the order. Furthermore, state legislatures will have to pass the new order, which could prove difficult as some are controlled by Republicans who won’t want to help Democrats change their order.

This procedural change could have significant impacts on the campaign for president and adds to the suspense as we wait to see who will be running for the Democratic nomination.