It always seems that the political parties are prone to different levels of intra-party rancor, with most of us assuming that it's only gotten worse. That's not necessarily the case.
Primary elections began in the early 1900’s with some similar events being held much earlier. The data from the past century reveals that it's not just Republicans who enjoy partisan infighting.
On average, there are:
2.82 primary challengers to every Democratic incumbent president.
2.44 primary challengers to every Republican incumbent president.
8.2 primary Democratic candidates in each election cycle with no incumbent running.
10 primary Republican candidates in each election cycle with no incumbent running.
This of course is just from presidential elections, but a trend line suggests that there may be something here.
When the data points are plotted, there is one major takeaway. There is a weak positive correlation between time and the number of GOP primary candidates. In other words, overtime, the GOP has seen an increase in the number of people willing to run against each other for the nomination. The Democratic Party shows an even weaker positive correlation, so much so that it probably isn’t noteworthy. The sample sizes for the incumbent elections are so small that one could only expect no correlation whatsoever.
I would have expected many people to run in the decades past as information did not spread as rapidly as it does today. I would expect that the citizens of other states would not be familiar with the political successes of another state’s governor or senators. Yet somehow, the votes coalesced around just a handful of individuals.
Today, however, citizens tend to be somewhat familiar with the politicians of other states, but we end up with more people running and less people voting. Pew Research points out that as a rule, fewer people vote in primaries than in the general election.
What does this have to do with Tuesday’s elections?
My view is that given the Blankenship debacle, the special elections from last year, and even the 2016 election, primaries have become a joke. Primaries are the place where nobodies, fringe candidates, milquetoasts, and everyone in between can throw their name out there. Voters don’t flock to primaries for a variety of reasons, one is the inconsistent format of party preference, another is the fact that unless you really keep up on the candidates, the choice isn’t always clear, and lastly, they aren’t held at the same time.
Maybe primaries should be set up like Survivor. Instead of voting for people, you vote against candidates. Candidates are voted off the island as it were.
While discussing this topic with fellow writers, several ideas were posited for how to address the number of candidates. I don’t believe there is a good solution, but it’s clear that a factious party can be less than helpful.
I’m sure that some of the numbers from the past century are the result of party bosses keeping a tight rein on the field, which might explain the increase over time. Party control over candidates is definitely unacceptable.
I’ll offer the following opinion. Candidates need humility. Candidates enter and stay in the race out of pride and vanity. Candidates with no chance of winning stay in the race just to highlight their 2% policy differences with the other candidates. Candidates with similar views refuse to get behind another candidate out of personal spite. And then you have candidates who do stupid stuff. Whatever the case maybe, unless they sincerely believe they can win, every candidate has to, at one point or another, consider leaving the race to others.
In my home state, the primary is some time from now. I’m currently looking at two candidates who are both claiming to be the “Trumpiest.” If their views are that similar, why can’t they just hold a meeting and decide that only one should run?
I understand some primary challenges will be the result of legitimate policy differences and that’s alright. There are different wings of the Republican Party, but demanding the success of your own wing at the price of losing to a Democrat is not smart politics. And it’s certainly not humble.