People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd
A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote in a national election. - Bill Vaughan
As you very well may know, the "primary" election process is underway for the Republican party*, beginning with the Iowa Caucus last week. If you have watched more than 30 seconds of national media coverage, you know that the candidates polling at 1% or higher nationally have been undergoing a long series of debates and those candidates have been working their way around the "key" states over the past couple of months in attempt to woo voters to their campaign. For example, in preparation for the Iowa Caucus, Rick Santorum campaigned in all 99 counties of Iowa which arguably catapulted him into a second place finish (by 8 votes). This fight for the nomination will continue throughout mid-summer; however, it is likely that by the end of January there will be a clear frontrunner in the election. How? Well the way the schedule of primaries and caucuses is laid out, the candidate will be voted upon in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida all by the end of January. Historically, these states (and the combination thereof) let the rest of the country know who really has a dog in this fight. Let's look at some historic results to get a better idea.
Iowa: The Iowa Caucus has been the first stop on the election train since 1972, and its role on the national stage has only gained greater momentum - a role that Iowans take very seriously. The first place finisher for the Democrats in Iowa (when there hasn't been a Democratic President running unopposed) has gone on to be the actual Democratic nominee 5 out of the last 9 times. Twice, with Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, the first place finisher in Iowa has gone on to become President (however, a guy named Bill Clinton finished 3rd in Iowa in 1992 with only 3% of the votes). Likewise, Iowans have "chosen" the Republican nominee 3 out of 6 times (when there wasn't a Republican President running unopposed) and twice, with Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, the first place finisher in Iowa has gone on to become President. Since 1972, no candidate has finished worse than 3rd place in the Iowa and gone on to win the Democratic or Republican nomination. Just for fun here are the results from the Iowa Caucus in 2008 and 2012:
(Eventual nominee: Barack Obama)
(Eventual nominee: John McCain)
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire primary will take place on January 10th (look for the New Hampshire debate TONIGHT at 9 pm ET on ABC) and has taken place every 4 years since 1952. The New Hampshire primary is the first primary (after all Iowa is a caucus) and therefore receives massive media attention, but the voters of New Hampshire are not historically known for choosing a candidate. That being said, after New Hampshire if the candidates have not had a decent (4th place or better) showing in either New Hampshire or Iowa, it is likely that they will then drop out of the race before reaching South Carolina.
South Carolina: The South Carolina primary takes place this year on January 21st and is has taken place since 1980. In 2008, the South Carolina primary solidified itself as "First in the South", designed to throw a curve ball in the candidates gaining momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire. Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, the Republican candidate who wins South Carolina has gone on to win the Republican nomination in every election since 1980. The first place Democratic candidate (when there wasn't a Democratic President running unopposed) has gone on to win the nomination 3 out of 5 times. Needless to say, when the Republican candidates start heading south next week they are going to be serious about winning over the voters of South Carolina (myself included).
Florida: The Florida primary will take place on January 31st, this year moving up by over a month (which caused some serious election scheduling chaos earlier this fall) to become one of the lead states in the primary election process. Florida, in the general election, is considered one of a few major swing states and it's role on the national election stage has always been prominent. You may remember the infamous "recount" of 2000, when the votes were so close between Al Gore and George W. Bush that the results were dragged out for weeks with George W. Bush eventually being the declared winner of Florida. By the time candidates leave Florida, a Republican frontrunner or two will most likely be carved out.
Time out - I need to tell you briefly about the different election processes held in each state.
Open Primary: Voters may vote in the primary election regardless of their registered voter affiliation - meaning Democrats can vote in the Republican primary and vice versa. Obviously, the disadvantage to this process is that Republican voters may intentionally try to sabotage a Democratic election by voting for the most unlikely candidate, for example. However, this process works well for those who consider themselves "Independent" and may not want to be confined to one party or another. Otherwise the primary is a pretty typical voting scenario - voter shows up to a designated voting location, casts their vote for a particular candidate, and gets a shiny new sticker to wear around town.
Closed Primary: Voters receive ballots based on their registered political affiliation - Democrats receive Democratic ballots, Republicans receive Republican ballots, and so forth.
Semi-Closed Primary: Voters receive ballots according to their political affiliation unless they are registered Independents, in which case they will receive a ballot of their choosing.
(To see which kind of primary election your state has please click HERE.)
Caucus: A caucus is essentially a meeting between voters of the same party, voting in the same precinct. At the caucus, voters discuss the candidates and place their votes. The main difference between a caucus and a primary is that voters publicly discuss candidates and try to persuade other voters before casting a vote whereas in a primary this process is considered a more private matter. Since Democrats and Republicans caucuses have slight differences in the way they are held, I've attached a video that makes it much easier to understand: the caucus explained.
Ok, we're back.
The primary process will continue, state by state until later this summer. March 6, 2012 has been scheduled as "Super Tuesday" where 10 different states hold election on the same day. So where does this big surge of election coverage leave the other remaining states? Unfortunately, by the time our candidates see the Utah primary on June 26th, they will likely have already made the backdrop for the Republican National Convention if you know what I'm saying. I didn't make the rules ok? I'm just relaying the facts. This election year, the Republican nominee will then go on to run against Obama and potentially a candidate running as an Independent (whether this happens or not is yet to be determined). The general election is kicked off in late summer with the Republican National Convention the week of August 27, 2012 and the Democratic National Convention the week of September 3, 2012. By this time, both candidates will have named their Vice Presidential candidate (Obama is certainly allowed to choose a new VP should he see fit) and will come prepared with hour long speeches to
bash the other party get us pumped up about America. Pretty standard, right?
This democratic process is sacred to voters in America. The fact that we will spend months deciding on "our guy" through debates, town hall meetings, campaign rallies, and the like is something for which we should all be grateful. Take time today to compare and review the candidates, check the time and place of the election in your state, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you are registered to vote!
Join the Club,
*Although both Republicans and Democrats go through this process, I will be focusing on the Republican party in this post due to the fact the Democrats have the incumbent president who will, without a doubt, be the Democratic party's nominee for the 2012 General Election.
Source: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/P12/events.phtml?s=c, http://www.uiowa.edu/election/history/index.html, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/how-often-does-iowa-get-it-right-in-the-us-presidential-race/article2289753/, http://www.270towin.com/states/, http://www.fairvote.org/congressional-and-presidential-primaries-open-closed-semi-closed-and-top-two#.Twh3bSNWqqo