America’s stupid long election season

Jesse Carey

Jesse Carey
Jesse Carey

I remember reading a Time Magazine article that was published in the wake of President Obama’s first election victory, back in that ancient year, 2008. In it, the people at the magazine dedicated a portion of the election coverage to looking ahead to the next election — in 2012.

I also remember reading various articles published in the immediate wake of President Obama’s second election victory back in that ancient year, 2012. In it, the best options for the 2016 election were presented.

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I suspect that in the aftermath of the 2016 election, a similar pattern will repeat itself. Ridiculous handicapping and point scoring by the media, money in politics and institutional challenges means that election season now stretches on for years and years — estimated at forty times the length of the United Kingdom’s.

The first problem that has contributed to the unbearable length of election season is the role played by the media. With the rise of the 24 hour news networks and of internet journalism, most articles of a political nature are framed in terms of the next election. This corresponds with the fact that the earliest election conventions happen years away from the actual election. The straw polls hosted eighteen months before the election are informal pulse checks that do very little to actually decide the fate of the election.

Thus, elections far away are never far from being news, or from driving the news cycle. Worse, the election spin on political stories is far too often driven by baseless rumor, inconsequential data, or that ancient enemy of the journalist, sensationalism.

The second problem causing lengthy election seasons is the amount of money needed to win elections. The cost of elections in America had been on the rise generally, up an astronomical five hundred and fifty percent from 1984. Five hundred and fifty percent.

This staggering increase only worsened after decisions by the Supreme Court in 2010 opened the floodgates to a sea of money in American elections.

In the 2012 election, it cost 1.7 million dollars for a seat in the House, and a staggering 10.5 million dollars for a seat in the senate. Obviously, the time it takes to raise all that money has also increased, which ties in to another point I will discuss shortly.

The third issue that causes an obscenely lengthy election cycle is the institutional challenges set forth in our founding documents.

Members of the House of Representatives serve only two years. While that may not have been an issue in the past, the amount of money that now must be raised — and the amount of time that congressmen must dedicate to raising that money — in order to run an effective campaign has drastically increased, meaning that the actual amount of time and work given over to governance has decreased. In short, Congressmen are hamstrung by the length of their term and must spend too much time campaigning.

So what can be done to fix the length of election season? One option is to roll back or eliminate many of the early conventions, from straw polls to wave upon wave of redundant nominee debates, which serve very little purpose aside from stirring up media narratives.

Another issue is to limit the amount of money available to campaigns. The idea is not without precedent. Both the United Kingdom and France limit the amount of money available to all candidates, which largely eliminates the need to fund-raise.

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Failing that, an extension to term limits so that a candidate need not spend so much of a brief term fundraising would help limit the length and breadth of American election seasons which produce apathy, bitterness and inefficiency.

Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter by @junotbend.