It was New Year’s Eve when I saw the online advertisement announcing that Senator Elizabeth Warren was launching an exploratory committee for president. Being a fan of Warren, at first, I was elated. “Maybe by this time next year, there will be a woman in the White House instead of…well…whatever Trump is,” I told myself. But then I remembered that it was New Years Eve 2018, not 2019. At that time, President Donald J. Trump’s term wasn’t even halfway over. The 2020 election was still nearly two years away. Warren was far from alone in announcing so soon. From January to May, over 20 other candidates entered the race. What’s more, back in October 2015, according to NPR, Former Vice President Joe Biden indicated that he was thinking of running for the 2016 nomination but declined to do so because he thought it would have been too late in the race for him to pose a serious challenge. This was despite the fact that there was still over a year until the election. Fast forward to today, and presidential candidates and debates dominate the news cycle, and there already seems to be an obsession among pundits about which candidate is the “most electable” and who is rising or falling in the polls, even though such metrics mean practically nothing at this stage. All of this got me thinking about why it seems that presidential elections start earlier and earlier, and go on for longer and longer every four years – and whether or not it is detrimental to the country.
Was it really necessary for Warren and all the other candidates to kick off their campaigns so early this year? No, it wasn’t. After all, other countries don’t do it this way. As NPR reports, the U.S., in addition to being an outlier among other nations when it comes to things like gun-related deaths and the number of incarcerated individuals, also has a presidential election cycle that is far longer than those of almost all other countries. In Mexico and the United Kingdom, for instance, elections run for roughly five months, while in Canada, they are less than three months. At the very low end of the spectrum lies Japan, lasting just under two weeks. I should mention that I am not necessarily arguing that elections should be two weeks or two months long, or any length in particular for that matter. But many Americans have gotten so used to having extremely long presidential campaigns that they have become desensitized to it, never even stopping to think about the fact that it definitely doesn’t have to be this way. Although some of the reasons as to why the U.S. has longer elections are by design, such as the system of holding primaries, which naturally would necessitate longer campaigns, there is reason to believe that they are still unacceptably long. But so what if we constantly seem to be having elections? Well, one consequence of drawn out elections is voter apathy and fatigue. When an election lasts for months and years on end, people are eventually bound to tire of hearing and reading about it. This can foster a general attitude of indifference, which could in turn suppress voter turnout when Election Day finally arrives. After all, the more that people are exposed to and learn about a candidate or candidates, the more likely it is that they will find some fault with or become annoyed with them, which may lead to them deciding that it is simply not worth it to head to the polls. In other words, familiarity breeds contempt.
All this aside, there is another major consequence of prolonged elections, and it revolves around the green paper that makes the world grow round: money. It pretty much goes without saying that the longer an election is, the more expensive it will be. Of course, the relationship between the length of elections and how much money they cost represents a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation; that is, it could be argued that it is not so much that American elections are so prohibitively expensive because they are long, but rather that they are long because they are expensive, since the pressure to raise a lot of money incentivizes candidates to announce their candidacy earlier than they otherwise would have. But one of the reasons why candidates are required to raise so much money in the first place is that they campaign for months and years on end, which means that more money is needed to pay for advertisements and campaign staff, which results in a vicious cycle of sorts. It is even possible that the length of American elections contributes to the disproportionate say that corporations and the mega-rich have in regard to public policy, because someone has to foot the bill for these long and expensive campaigns, and many candidates turn to wealthy special-interest groups for just that purpose. It doesn’t help matters that candidates are expected to raise the funds for their campaign largely on their own, without the help of the government, as the government could never justify funding the campaigns of everyone running for president for two years, which brings me to the next problem with long election cycles.
If an election lasted, say, three months, as opposed to nearly two years, there wouldn’t be any opportunity for nearly as many candidates to enter the race, since there would only be time to focus on two or three candidates as opposed to 25, which is the total number of Democrats who are either running or were running but later withdrew from the race. Most of these candidates have or have had good policy ideas, and each of them would certainly be a better president than Trump ever has been, but in a field that crowded, there are bound to be some who do not have, and never have had, any meaningful chance of winning. Some might argue that anyone who wants to run for president should be able to, but in the end, there can only be one winner, and to have dozens of non-viable candidates running is an incredible drain on resources. That said, admittedly, a large part of why there are so many candidates vying for the White House in 2020, at least on the Democratic side, is that they all seem to think that they have a shot at defeating the incumbent president, and they may be right about that. Trump’s chance of winning re-election, as it stands now, is less than it was for most other incumbent presidents. But most of the candidates announced that they were running when Trump’s term was barely half over, and we are still a little over a year away from November 2020. This begs the question, “How are we supposed to know what Trump’s true chances of winning will be if the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day, which we are still so far away from?” A year may not seem very long, but a lot can happen in that time frame. We can barely predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone six or eight months from now, so what’s the point of constantly focusing on who is trying to defeat Trump instead of paying attention to the man who, for now, whether we like it or not, is still commander-in-chief? In short, instead of getting all riled up about the election, we should remind ourselves to calm down, because ultimately, it is next year, not next month.