Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The problem with primaries

The US election started last week with the Iowa caucuses, and tomorrow (actually late this afternoon, in the case of one small hamlet) we'll see the second round, in New Hampshire. And in the intervening time, the problem with the US system of staggered primaries has become apparent. Barrack Obama led the Democratic caucus, garnering 37.6% of the vote. And in the wake of that victory, the ground has sharply shifted in other states as voters have flocked to back the winner and the media narrative has become one of "Clinton in trouble". Obama is now leading in New Hampshire (previously he had trailed Clinton by around 10 points), and in South Carolina (which is the next official primary; while Michigan will be holding its primary next week, the Democrats are refusing to seat their delegates as they have violated South Carolina's sacred right to be third. Or something). And given the way US primary elections work, if Obama takes those three early primaries, his candidacy will then become "inevitable" (at least in the eyes of the media). Clinton can probably hang on to contest Super Duper Tuesday in February, but she will be in serious trouble, and there's a high chance people won't turn out to vote for her because she is "losing".

No matter what you think of the virtues of the particular candidates (and really, I don't give much of a damn between them; the important thing is that neither is Bush, or a committed clone), this is simply crazy. It is highly likely that, due simply to timing, democrats in a few tiny states will effectively determine their party's candidate - despite holding between them only 2.5% of the 4367 delegates attending the convention. Whichever way you look at it, that simply isn't democratic.