Primary Pandemonium: Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?

Tuesday’s elections illustrate an essential facet of election history: Partisan infighting and primary challenges

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.

I think a lower number of voters in the primary is a feature, not a bug. The larger the voter pool is, the less informed the average voter becomes. Primaries are even harder to be informed than a general election. I believe that caucuses and conventions offer the best opportunities to choose the best candidates. It requires more time and effort and will likely get a higher political IQ voter. That doesn't mean that they agree with me, but they at least know what they are doing and who they are voting for.

There isn't a good way to keep candidates from running without putting the party bosses in charge of the entire process and have them end up picking the winners. If you have primaries, runoffs are a must. It is ridiculous that someone can win the primary with just a plurality of the vote, sometimes 30-something percent.

Adding in a 2nd choice scoring system would be a good addition (which is typically included in caucus and convention type systems anyway). This would allow a better selection of a top 2 runoff, and could even void the need for one. The math could get complicated to explain, but the basic concept is pretty simple, 1st choice and 2nd choice if the 1st is not available.

Candidates don't drop out because of their own personal arrogance and pride (See Rubio, Marco) after the writing is on the wall. It would be nice, but good luck on trying to change the human condition. Most people have to be arrogant and prideful to want to enter politics in the first place. I don't see that ever changing.

I would disagree that seeing your wing prevail is always secondary to defeating the Democrats. There are many races in which the GOP candidate is not significantly different than the Democrat in practice. The rhetoric and promises will be different, but the action and where the rubber meets the road will not be. In those cases, it is okay to just say "no" to both candidates. We are under no obligation to vote for someone solely because they have the magic 'R' after their name and they are "better than the Democrat". That attitude has led to a massive federal government involved in every facet of our lives and a massive annual deficit that will crash our economy at some point.


@etbass, the part on Rubio^
You are now my favorite commenter.

Primaries open open open questions with no easy answers. Separate the open and closed, where a caucus has a part, runoff primary elections vs. no run off election. The variety of dates for the primary. Louisiana uses the first Tuesday in November as their first election, with a runoff later if needed. Some would say the conservative Republicans split the vote in 2008 and 2012, giving the moderate or liberal the win, and a November defeat. Trump was the first outsider that had name identification and money How does one pick when the field starts at seventeen? When Perry and Walker dropped out, that left Trump and Cruz to battle it out. At least five or six had no chance. Some of the differences amounted to nickles and dimes, other many dollars. For a number of years being a military hero was a lock for the nomination. Utah picks the nominee if one person gets sixty percent otherwise the top two go to a vote. With certain qualifications there can be many independents. If people will not turn out for two elections, more elections will not help. In this election we have so many open seats and incumbents being challenged, that congress might get a face .side issue caused by special elections and primaries is the chance for voter fraud. Voting in more then one primary, or voting when you sre not qualified.

Primaries are a 'progressive' idea, and the Republican Party should abandon them.

We do not need to continue to see cranks, crooks & Democrats foisted onto our general election ballot by gaming the system & exploiting voter apathy.

Bring back the members-only caucus, and let the party as-an-organization choose ALL of it's nominees.



You are correct. Open primaries are even worse. Until just this past election, in Alabama, a person could vote in the Democrat primary and then vote in the Republican runoff. The idea that a party should chose it's nominee by a mass popular vote of anyone that wants to weigh in is a terrible idea. It leads to name ID and money being the two biggest factors, by far, in who wins.

In Alabama, the primary and runoff is the big show. It's over after that. We did have zero state wide Democrats elected, in the entire state. Now we have one. It took a controversial nominee, a special election environment AND allegations of child molestation for them to win that one.

So now, all of the Democrats with any political future, especially the ones that aren't San Francisco leftist or black, became "Republicans". And half of the Democrat voters now vote in the GOP primary. This results in a lot of progressives masquerading as Republicans and winning.

In Alabama, we need at least three parties: Republican, Democrat and Conservative. The three would be pretty evenly split. Like everywhere else, the business interest and establishment types hold most of the power.


Trump has provided a template for 'room temperature' Democrats with business experience & no political experience to run as Republicans...

The guy who is now the nominee in Indiana is one such candidate.

The 'outsider' challenging Leah Vukmir in the WI primary is another...

And we will probably see more...

@etbass That was an unnecessary shot at Rubio. I'm sure you meant Carson or Kasich as examples of gadfly candidates who refuse to quit. Rubio was at least viable, but that's old news.

Caucuses are undemocratic. They encourage the worst sorts of candidates and their loony supporters. I'm not OK with letting people who wear funny costumes and tri cornered hats in public select our candidates. That's how Ron Paul won lots of delegates years ago.

I do agree that runoffs are a good thing. There were people who won races this past week who got under 30% of the vote.

Define viable. Winning Minnesota and DC, and not you’re home state, is not viable.
At least Kasich won Ohio.

Rubio was top 3 in nearly every early state. Kasich wasn't even top 10 most of the time. None of it matters now, but Rubio at least had justification to stay in until there was no path left. Kasich had no reason to even run.

It was a basically a 4 person race with Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Jeb! Everyone else was taking up space, some more than others (cough, Christie, cough). Kasich was running as some Rockefeller left wing Republican for which there was no interest.


No, it was very necessary. And true. Everyone knew Rubio was done after he floundered on Super Tuesday. Then he dropped to single digits by super Saturday. By then, we all knew it was Cruz or Trump. Everyone else was too far behind. Instead of getting out, Rubio ran for another month. Even a conservative split estimate of his vote totals cost Cruz 2 states on Super Tuesday III. Trump won FL, IL, MZ and NC. Kasich won Ohio. That was when Trump won. Indiana was just the final nail. Instead without Rubio, Cruz easily wins NC and MZ. Then he tears up the conventions, then Wisconsin and likely wins the nomination.

I'm not one that says Rubio should have gotten out after Iowa. But after Louisinana and Kentucky and single digits, it was all over.

Now Kasich has more ego and arrogance than Rubio. However, he wasn't ever relevant to win and occupied a faction that wasn't voting for Cruz or Trump. Carson was running a scam. He wasn't that relevant either.

If people don't care enough to show up for a caucus, then they don't care enough to have their voice heard. Sure there are loons. Much of that is because its an obscure porocess for most people. Iowa isn't that way. Candidates have to work for support, which ends up with a high political intelligence compared to the average.

Voter ignorance is one of our biggest problems. Promotion by Fox News is the single biggest advantage a candidate can have. Over any stance, any allies, any personality, any ideas, any accomplishments. Fox and the desire to be on Fox corrupts the entire center right media. Most of our base just eats whatever bull is shoveled in their mouths.

The fact that people are arguing for more machining of primaries than less shows how far down the river Conservatives have come.