Reshaping 2012: Will the election really be different?

Everyone remembers the 2008 election. But although the election of President Barack Obama was undoubtedly a historic moment in U.S. history, the primary campaign may be just as memorable. For the first time in recent memory, the primary campaign, at least for the Democratic nomination, lasted nearly to the conventions.

While I found the contest fascinating, others were less happy about the drawn-out nature of the contest. The parties are united in this, if nothing else: they don’t want to see a primary campaign like 2008 again. According to The Washington Post, both parties are imposing later start dates for the official campaign – no actual votes before February, for example. Also, Republicans are considering a move in which their early contests will feature proportional distribution of the delegates, mirroring the Democratic strategy that many believed the cause of the long campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats are considering cutting the role of superdelegates.

While the author of the Post article thinks that these are good adaptations, I’m more skeptical whether they are warranted, or whether they will create any real change. For many committed partisans, the primary is the only choice they will make. They will vote for their party’s candidate in the general election, regardless of personality or issue positions. A long primary that allows everyone in the country to have a say in their presidential nominee is valuable. It also lessens the power of the first states somewhat – and it is worth noting that neither party is challenging the primacy of Iowa or New Hampshire.

Perhaps equally important, will these changes even matter? The media is already covering the 2012 campaign, with its potential nominees: Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney, to name a few. The news is awash in stories about their fundraising, their use of social media, their image, and even the early poll numbers! If the media is going to continue to cover the primary this far out, the candidates will prepare for it. And if this is the case – what really changes?

I’m all in favor of a revision to the way Americans elect their president, but I think the changes need to be much more substantial. I’m intrigued that the two parties are making their primaries more similar – Republicans by adopting proportional delegation, Democrats cutting superdelegates – but the process will essentially remain the same. And I’m also curious – what do the parties hope to gain with these changes? I guess we’ll see how different things really are in 2012 – and I’m looking forward to it!

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