Monday, April 20, 2015

Ability to Pick Winners Is Not the Best Way to Determine Presidential Caucuses Are Bad

FHQ just cannot buy the contention that presidential primaries are better than caucuses because the former is better at picking eventual nominees than the latter. Philip Bump makes that argument at The Fix today, but come on. First, there are way better arguments that can be made against caucuses. [FHQ remains agnostic. Parties control these nominations and some state parties simply prefer caucuses to a primary.]

Secondly, however, there is a very good institutional reason that primaries are "better" at picking winners/eventual nominees than caucuses. Well, actually there are two related factors. For starters, there are about triple the number of presidential primaries as there are caucuses. And a pretty significant number of those primary states occupy the very end of the primary calendar. That tends to be the point in the process when either the field has been winnowed down to two viable candidates or one very nearly presumptive nominee and a protest candidate (see Ron Paul's routine ~20% of the vote in May and June contests in 2012). That makes it a lot easier to pick a winner. Actually that make it a lot easier to pick the winner when voters in a late primary state already know who that nominee will be.

Well, aren't there later caucuses?

No, not really. From a logistical standpoint, caucuses have to be early in the process. The precinct caucuses are but the first step in a caucuses/convention process that plays out -- with some variation -- across states. In some caucuses states like Iowa, the process is ongoing the entire primary season. In others, like North Dakota, the steps from caucuses to state convention have taken as little as approximately a month.

But if all the caucuses states are regularly occurring in (February sometimes and) March and April (in the 1976-2012 period), then they would have a wider field of candidates from which to choose. Meanwhile, the straggling primaries in May and June (like Oregon) help bring up the winning percentage for primaries overall.

Remove those and FHQ will bet that the "winning percentage" for primaries drops to around the same level as caucuses or at least to a pretty negligible difference.

Lower turnout, time commitments. Those are good criticisms of caucuses. Ability to pick a nominee is not.

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