The 2016 US Presidential elections will be remembered for a great many reasons – Hillary Clinton becoming the first female presidential nominee (and probably the first female POTUS), Donald Trump’s inflammatory and game changing campaign, and Bernie’s popular, though ultimately unsuccessful, call for a socialist political revolution. As much as I have enjoyed the election, I am tired of hearing about it now – it has simply lasted too long.
We are yet to reach the National Party Conventions and yet we have seen 16 GOP candidates and 4 (soon to be 5) Democratic candidates withdraw from the race; we have had to endure 12 GOP debates, 9 GOP forums, 9 Democrat debates and 13 Democrat forums; we have seen countless speeches, rallies, adverts, interviews and tweets. It has been over 18 months since Jeb Bush first formed his PAC to fund his campaign and over 15 months since Ted Cruz announced his candidacy (the first candidate to do so). When we consider that Canada’s longest election in a century lasted 78 days (the longest was still only 96 days in 1872), in France and the UK elections don’t last more than a few months, 12 days in Japan, Mexican elections are limited to 147 days, it seems ludicrous that a nation that prides itself as the pinnacle of liberal democracy requires over 500 days to elect a leader.
Elections of such a length are unnecessary. They lead to voter apathy as voters become tired of hearing the same arguments for two years, it allows money to have undue influence on the election, and it takes away from an incumbent’s ability to perform his duties.
It could have been argued at a point in time that the length of the primary process was inevitable and justified given the size of the nation; candidates required time to campaign in all 50 states, and the election process itself took time. This might have been true before the internet. Now, candidates like Donald Trump can campaign across 50 states and the rest of the world using just his twitter account. You would expect that all the technological advances we have made would allow for shorter elections – transport has improved so candidates can travel quickly and campaign in all 50 states and media coverage has improved so much so that a candidate can sit at his laptop or stand in front of a camera and have his message reach an international audience. Instead, elections have simply lengthened.
There are those who would say that the American people need time to make up their minds – the length of the election is justified because we need time to gather information on the candidates, and decide which one we support. If most other democratic nations can elect a leader in less than half the time that the US does, then why does a nation that prides itself as the ultimate liberal democracy need so long; why are people so indecisive? It is not as though we are receiving new information from the candidates. We have always known that Bernie was a far left ‘socialist’ who wanted free 4 year education for all, to break up the big banks, and that his average donation amount was $27, just as we have known from day one that ‘The Donald’ is an inflammatory racist who has no clue what he is talking about. If the larger electorate is anything like me, they have become tired of hearing about Trump and Clinton and Bernie; they have heard enough about tax plans and immigration reform; and many of them have probably already made up their mind as to who to vote for. Elections of such a length are simply going to lead to voter apathy and lower turnout.
Money’s undue influence on election in the USA is also largely due to the length of elections. Campaigns are expensive (the 2012 Presidential Campaigns totaled more than $2bn), and when a candidate is forced to run a campaign against numerous opponents in his own party for 12 months, and then spend another 6 months campaigning against the other party nominee, it is inevitable that the candidate with superior funding has an unwarranted advantage. This in turn leads to the cementing of the two party system – shown this year to be great failure of American democracy.
The issue of reelection is another problem with such long elections. Presidential terms last 4 years, and in those four years, it is likely that a candidate will spend almost two years preparing for reelection – another unacceptable failure of American democracy.
The length of US elections are unjustified and a hindrance to democracy. It is time for the United States to follow the example Canada, Mexico, France, the UK and its fellow democracies around the world.