Primary Follies and Proportional Representation

Following up on another reader comment, on the News Tips page Paul Kroenke from Organized Exploitation relays a link to A Certain Enthusiasm discussing changes to the GOP's primary calendar that would draw out the presidential nominating process. In the post, Fred Bauer writes in favor of the measure:
One of the principal benefits of a drawn-out primary calendar that starts with smaller states is that it allows candidates who might not start out with the most money or the highest name ID to prove themselves to the voters, building a movement state-by-state, county-by-county. A national primary or a primary that is extraordinarily front-loaded greatly incentivizes the ability to raise money fast and generate free national media coverage. This set of incentives might not always lead to the strongest general election candidate.
Bauer bases his discussion on a report at Hotline On Call, which describes the rule change in the following way:

The new rule, written after months of painstaking negotiations among senior members of the national committee, would push the beginning of the presidential nominating process back a month, to Feb., as part of a plan to prevent wealthy candidates from stealing the nomination.

GOP caucuses and primaries would be held that month in the 4 early states -- the rule codifies IA, NH, SC and NV as states allowed to hold contests in a "pre-window." Every other state would be allowed to hold their nominating contests on or after the first Tuesday in March.

But there's an important caveat, members of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee said: Any state that holds its nominating contest before the first day of April -- that is, any state that rushes to front-load their nominating process -- will have to award their delegates on a proportional basis. [Emphasis added.]

That's a dramatic change from previous party rules; many states awarded delegates on a winner-take-all basis, setting up key dates on which candidates could win big chunks of delegates and shut out their rivals.
As to whether the rule change will have the desired effect, we will simply have to wait and see. But its unintended effects may prove to be of greater interest, at least for those of us who advocate the dismantling of the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government. For instance, proponents of proportional representation argue that its implementation would result in a more representative government. In the article on the subject I excerpted yesterday, David Wetzell writes that "American Proportional Representation is unapologetically biased in favor of smaller parties." Obviously, the Democratic and Republican parties do not take kindly to such proposals. But the rule change proposed by the RNC shows that party leadership are slowly becoming comfortable with at least one form of proportional representation. Granted, in this specific case, the awarding of delegates on a proportional basis seems to be intended as a disincentive to states that might consider holding an early primary. But why wouldn't this rule change function as an incentive for states to hold an early primary? And why shouldn't all delegates be awarded on a proportional basis for all states no matter when they hold their primaries?


Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

In a word: power.

Each state wants to maximize the effect it has on the outcome; they want to be more powerful. By splitting their delegates among multiple candidates, they become weaker; a relative change of only a handful of delegates, rather than two or three dozen. And this power in deciding the outcome translates to more power over the wining candidate.

It's the same reason that so few states split up their electoral college votes. (And Nebraska is talking about doing away with that.)

Now, it would be better overall--in other words, the eventual winner would be a more-preferred choice, and probably have a better chance to win the presidency--if every state was proportional. But this is in tension with the fact that each state is itself better off by NOT doing so.

DLW said...

honestly, I'd rather see a "top 3 IRV" used for the presidential election. The Nov 4 election shd be a national primary with 7 candidates of which we approve of three and the three with the most approval votes go on to the electoral college, as elected via the same sort of election at the congressional district level... and then the electors get to use IRV to pick the next president within a week of the primary.

DLW said...

We could let PR in the state primaries decide which 6 or 7 people are on the ballot on Nov 4. Or we could just let states decide which system they want.

I think PR wd be favored though when more than one candidate is being selected, as the power/gaming only makes sense when you get a chance to be the state that settles who is the next presidential candidate for your party.