The process by which we elect presidents sucks canal water, and people hate it. One of the things that people really hate about it is the long and drawn-out primary process, in which a few states fight to the death to be the first to hold primaries, and then once those are done, everyone agrees to pretend for a while that it isn't completely obvious who is going to eventually win. Then, after a few months of that fiction, everyone gets tired of pretending and the primary season ends with a few completely meaningless plebiscites in the states that got rooked by getting scheduled at the end.
Then, the long and drawn-out primary process is followed by the long and drawn-out everything else. The presidential campaign season goes on for months longer than makes sense. There's just no good reason to take so long. In fact, it's the length of the process that causes all of the things that everyone really hates about presidential campaigns to happen. It's the reason why the media gets obsessed with nonsense, and why the debates degenerate into gaffe-fights, and why key issues don't get attention, and why a lot of pointless money gets spent on terrible ads, and why there are so many dumb stunts. (A Republican National Convention that had to be over and done with in 48 hours wouldn't have had the time to offer to Clint Eastwood to make a joke out of his entire career.)
And so it came to pass that Gallup conducted a poll about voter reform, and lo, they discovered that the majority of Americans would prefer to un-suck this process. Election reform, in fact, is a perennial issue for the folks at Gallup:
The July 6-7 poll comes at a time when Americans are highly frustrated with the federal government. The reforms are three Dr. George Gallup promoted in a 1978 "Reader's Digest" article entitled "Six Political Reforms Most Americans Want." In addition to the three reforms tested this month, the other reform ideas Dr. Gallup advanced were congressional term limits, abolishing the Electoral College to elect the president based on the popular vote, and campaign finance reform. Back then, a majority of Americans favored all six reforms.
At various times this year, Gallup has retested public support for the reforms using slightly different question wording and format and found that half or more of Americans still favor each of them. In January, Gallup found 75% in favor of term limits and 63% for abolishing the Electoral College. Last month, Gallup found 79% supporting overall limits on campaign spending and 50% backing a publicly financed campaign system.
The three reforms that Gallup tested this month received the following responses:
As you can see, a large majority of respondents favor changing the total length of the presidential election to "just five weeks in late September and October before the November election." A smaller, but still sizable, majority would like to scrap the primary process altogether, and have "a nationwide primary on one day instead of ... individual state primaries run over several months."
Of course, there is an obvious grand irony here. The largest majority of respondents would like to "require a nationwide popular vote on any issue if enough voters signed a petition to request a vote on the issue." And that is something that I would caution against. It sounds very similar to the direct democracy experiments that have resulted in the widespread use of citizen referenda in the state of California. That is a classic example of a good-sounding idea in theory that turns into a terrible idea in practice. As The Economist explains:
This citizen legislature has caused chaos. Many initiatives have either limited taxes or mandated spending, making it even harder to balance the budget. Some are so ill-thought-out that they achieve the opposite of their intent: for all its small-government pretensions, Proposition 13 ended up centralising California's finances, shifting them from local to state government. Rather than being the curb on elites that they were supposed to be, ballot initiatives have become a tool of special interests, with lobbyists and extremists bankrolling laws that are often bewildering in their complexity and obscure in their ramifications. And they have impoverished the state's representative government. Who would want to sit in a legislature where 70-90% of the budget has already been allocated?
Of course, if direct democracy is a good-sounding dumb idea, its appeal among these Gallup respondents is probably rooted in the fact that our lawmaking professionals have endeavored at length these past few years to make representative democracy a complete and utter sinkhole of human wreckage, so these preferences are fairly understandable. Nevertheless, the majorities of respondents are totally correct -- we should scrap the stupid primary system, shorten the entire election season, and for Pete's sake let's also have Election Day on a weekend or make it a national holiday, for the sake of all humanity, the end.
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This story appears in Issue 58 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, July 19.