Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why go "proportional"?

I'm just back from the Southern Political Science Association conference in New Orleans. (Ate a lot of fried stuff.) I attended a particularly interesting panel on the role of the states in the current presidential nomination race. Josh Putnam, one of the panelists, was asked why the Republicans have gone with a somewhat more proportional delegate allocation system this year. After all, the Republican method has traditionally been winner-take-all, while Democrats have traditionally favored proportionality. What led Republicans to believe that a potentially protracted nomination battle was better for their party?

Now, Josh has already dispensed with the idea that Republicans have really gone proportional. (Hence the quotes in the title above.) But to the extent they've changed the system at all, he offered an educated guess. Josh noted that the new rules were essentially handed down by then-chairman Michael Steele after the last presidential election. It is possible that Steele noticed that the Democrats' protracted nomination battle in 2008 not only didn't end up hurting the ticket in the fall, but may have ended up helping. That is, Obama/Clinton contests on rarely-fought terrain like North Carolina and Indiana allowed Obama to build up a campaign infrastructure in the spring, which he could translate into a general election infrastructure in the fall. (And yeah, the campaign infrastructure in those swing states could have made the difference.) So perhaps the Republicans were actually looking for a somewhat drawn out spring contest, hoping it would give them a better shot against Obama this fall.

Admittedly, this is an educated guess, but it sounds like a pretty good one to me.

1 comment:

metrichead said...

I wonder if this might be the new norm in presidential politics.

If I'm not mistaken, both the Republican primaries in 2000 and the Democratic primaries in 2004 were over by March/April. Conventional wisdom is that you want to avoid a protracted primary battle because it diminishes your chances in the fall. Yet, even though both contests weren't nearly as long as the Democratic primary in 2008, the fact that you had the challenger party's candidates going toe-to-toe on a nightly basis made them effective at damaging the incumbent's approval (in 2000 Gore, and 2004 Bush) rating, fundamentals of the economy and war casualties notwithstanding.

I know Putnam's main argument was that Obama had to build an infrastructure in states like North Carolina and Indiana in order to actually win those states, but I would bet that in 2004, the challenger party's candidates were helped by the fact that they were allowed to continually hammer the Bush administration on his policies without the incumbent having the appropriate medium to respond.


On a completely different note, how were you able to get that specific AddThis toolbar for your blog? I have one, but I don't like the look of it. I tried several different ways, but wasn't successful.