Is It A Problem If The Democratic Primary Goes To The Convention?
by J Ro, Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 01:56:23 PM EST
The Democratic primary season continues on without a nominee in sight, while Republicans have a nominee in John McCain. Most people I've talked to are split on whether a long primary season for the Democrats will hurt the eventual nominee's chances in the general.
On the one hand, there are those that believe that a vigorous internal debate within the Democratic party - with more primary voters getting a chance to weigh in - will strengthen the party as a whole. And of course, as kos pointed out, the continued primary makes it hard for John McCain to get any press.
On the other hand, while Clinton and Obama spend millions on media attacking each other, McCain can quietly consolidate the Republican base, plan his campaign, fundraise, and get his ground game started. When we do have a nominee, they will be starting off weeks or months behind.
Of course, I'm not comfortable calling for either candidate to withdraw before they have locked up the nomination, but the question of whether a drawn-out primary is good for the Democratic party is an important one. To get some perspective, I examined the primaries of both parties for Presidential elections going back to 1972. I was specifically looking for information on when candidates from each party locked up their respective nominations and how they fared in the general election afterwards.
Using Wikipedia and FEC sources, here's what I found:
|Year||Democratic Candidate||Primary Situation||Republican Candidate||Primary Situation||General Winner|
|1972||George McGovern||Nomination wrapped up mid-spring||Richard Nixon (incumbent)||Nomination wrapped up early||Nixon (R)|
|1976||Jimmy Carter||Nomination wrapped up early||Gerald Ford||Nomination goes to Republican Convention||Carter (D)|
|1980||Jimmy Carter (incumbent)||Nomination goes to Democratic Convention||Ronald Reagan||Nomination wrapped up early||Reagan (R)|
|1984||Walter Mondale||Nomination wrapped up in June||Ronald Reagan (incumbent)||Uncontested primary||Reagan (R)|
|1988||Michael Dukakis||Nomination goes to Democratic Convention||George H.W. Bush||Nomination wrapped up after Super Tuesday||Bush (R)|
|1992||Bill Clinton||Nomination wrapped up in early April||George H.W. Bush||Nomination wrapped up early||Clinton (D)|
|1996||Bill Clinton (incumbent)||Uncontested primary||Bob Dole||Nomination wrapped up early||Clinton (D)|
|2000||Al Gore||Nomination wrapped up March 9th||George W. Bush||Nomination wrapped up March 14th||Bush (R)|
|2004||John Kerry||Nomination wrapped up March 11th||George W. Bush (incumbent)||Uncontested primary||Bush (R)|
Obviously there are a ton of factors that go into elections. It's impossible to say any correlation noticed in the above chart means those factors caused a specific outcome. And while it's hard to divine any specific pattern with respect to when each party locks up their respective nominations and its effect on the general, one thing is clear: Since 1972, when a party has let their primary go on until the convention, they have lost 100% of the time. Even when the primary was relatively open on both sides with no incumbent running - as it 1976 and 1988 - the party that let their fight go on until the convention lost.
I fall into the pro-democracy camp. I think it's good that more people get to participate in the process. Indeed, they've responded to that opportunity with enthusiasm - turnout numbers are off the charts. I feel good about the primary process continuing - even though personally I'm getting sick of the media coverage. However, I'm not OK with this thing going until the convention. If history is our guide, we'll be at a distinct disadvantage if we don't have a nominee by the time the party convenes this summer.
Hopefully, we as a party will find a way to end this process before then. Otherwise, I'd be worried.