A Two Year Election?

The long election cycle is a misallocation of resources that should be fixed

There you have it, folks. It is finally over. The historic event that has colored the very first chapter in most Harvard students’ adult lives has reached its conclusion. No more primaries, ads, or gaffes to worry about. Everyone can get back to doing what they had been doing before this election season started.

As it turns out, that was quite a long time ago. The American punditocracy has been covering this horserace for 22 months. This extended cycle is a troublesome and oft-overlooked feature of the American political system. A two-year election cycle halves the amount of time presidents have for uninterrupted governance and distorts policy for a distressingly long time. Attempts for meaningful electoral reform should begin by examining the political infrastructure of contests abroad, some of which have legally mandated six-week or two-month campaigns.

A two-year presidential race engenders a host of negative implications. For one, it makes legislative deal making nearly impossible for a full two years. Second, it limits the amount of time politicians have to make politically thorny but essential policy decisions. Add that to the undue stress it causes millions of amateur politicos who nearly go into cardiac arrest at every twitch in the Intrade or Fivethirtyeight odds, and we have a national crisis on our hands.

Unfortunately, a critique of this system by the mainstream media is far from forthcoming. The American sensibility loves sport—the Super Bowl frequently breaks the record for most watched television program in United States history. The foremost function of the media, at least from their perspective, is to engage in a business. How better to make money than to appeal to what Americans like? Talking about winners and losers for twenty-two months is much more likely to capture the country’s attention than arcane references to “Fast and Furious” or “Dodd-Frank.” There is only so much the talking heads can say about the state of unemployment.

As the media prolongs the election cycle, candidates are forced to devote more time and money promoting their campaigns than ever before. This year, a whopping $6 billion has been spent on the presidential election, an amount that surpasses that of 2008 by $700 million. There is no telling where that number will go in the future, as outside interests are given more and more flexibility in funding their favorite frontrunner. A similar, if not worse, problem exists in elections in which there is an incumbent seeking reelection. He or she is forced to take valuable time out of his first job—governing the country—to convince the people to give him another term.

At its core, the election cycle is a misallocation of resources. While it may help a select few who participate in the business of electing (and cavorting with) politicians, it has a detrimental impact on those of us the leaders purport to represent. We can think of several more valuable ways to spend the capital wasted on a drawn out presidential campaign. America has $16 billion in debt, an ominous “fiscal cliff” approaching, and foreign policies exigencies with which to deal. It is a shame that these issues are ignored as the country turns the topic of its governance into a hyperextended athletic competition.


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