The advantages and disadvantages of the nominating process
Advantages of the nomination process
The system is open to the public and actively encourages a much wider voter participation in the selection of candidates. Indeed the increasing use of primaries was a direct result of the McGovern-Fraser reforms, which followed the victory of Hubert Humphrey, who secured the Democratic nomination in 1968 despite standing in no primaries.
The process is also open to any aspiring candidate. In this way, little-known outsider candidates (insurgents), such as Carter 1976 Barack Obama in 2008, can rapidly rise to prominence and secure a party's nomination. However, the possibility that an 'insurgent' could capture the nomination has also resulted in the Trump presidency.
The primaries are often used as a testing ground for candidates to iron out political campaigns, establish a network of grassroots support and gauge the demands of the electorate. The gruelling nature of the process also narrows the field and eliminates candidates who do not have the political stamina to secure the presidency. In this way, Herman Cain, an early Republican favourite in 2012 with his 9-9-9 tax plan and successes in the initial debates, was forced to suspend his campaign following his inability to deal with various allegations of sexual misconduct. Jeb Bush was widely predicted as the likely winner in 2016 but his dull personality was exposed in the primary debates.
The process allows for rival policies to be discussed and debated, enriching the level of political debate across the country. The 2008 and 2012 primaries saw a series of debates, which pitted the leading candidates from each party against one another. 2016 saw more primary debates than ever before- critics might point out that the candidacy of Trump lowered the quality of debates as they descended into trading insults.
Disadvantages of the nomination process
Primaries add a further layer of elections to the process and some argue that the huge number, and frequency, of US elections, adds to a growing sense of voter apathy. Indeed turnout at primaries is often below 10%. 2016 averaged 28%
Similarly, the primary electorate is unrepresentative of the population and tends to be older, wealthier and more ideologically partisan, as seen by the relative success of libertarian Republican Ron Paul in both 2008 and 2012. This might explain the support for Bernie Saunders and Trump.
In addition, the ability of voters to 'raid' opposition primaries is a particular concern in open primaries. This was most recently seen by the efforts of Democrat activists in Michigan to push fellow Democrats into voting for Rick Santorum in the 2012 Republican primary.
Undermines party control
The lack of party control over the selection process can lead to ill-qualified candidates achieving the nomination, due to a lack of peer review. Thus candidates are chosen based on their personal qualities and campaign skills rather than on their presidential qualities. The introduction of superdelegates to counter this was proven ineffectual
in 2008, when Democrat superdelegates were reluctant to support Clinton and go against Obama, who had secured a majority of pledged delegates.
The primary process is also deeply divisive to parties, with the bitter personal battles and inter-party rivalry necessary to secure the nomination. Both these points are illustrated by the 2016 primaries.
The scheduling of primaries has become vital, with a good showing in early primaries considered crucial. Thus the primaries are being compressed (ifontloaded) as states compete to be in the early 'make-or-break' rounds. This has two major effects: Insufficient time is allowed for debate and reflection, as candidates with a poor early showing soon drop out. This arguably gives too much prominence to the unrepresentative states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as seen by Michele Bachmann's withdrawal from the Republican race the day after she came sixth in the 2012 Iowa caucus. However, the trend in 2007 and 2016 was for lengthy and hard fought primary campaigns.
Too much importance is attached to raising funds during the invisible primary, which has further lengthened the process by forcing candidates to announce their candidacy earlier. Whereas in 1960 JFK announced his candidacy only 66 days before the first primary, Mitt Romney announced his candidacy on 11 April 2011 —a clear 308 days before the Iowa caucus.
The primary process favours those who have raised the biggest 'war chest' in the invisible primary, giving too much weight to money and image rather than issues. It arguably creates a political system dominated by those groups and individuals who are able to secure the most money for candidates and causes the reality of daily politics in America to be overtaken by the need to raise funds for the next election. However, Michael Bloomberg spent 100 million with little effect in 2020.