Voters Demand Longer Campaigns -- Oh Really?

March 19, 2007

A news story you are unlikely to see:

Voters Demand Longer Campaigns

St. Paul, MN – In a rally at the state capitol, citizens from around Minnesota gathered to demand a longer political campaign season.

“Our elections are just too short,” said Natalie Johnson of Bloomington. “Those 30-second television commercials are so darn informative. Why should we have to wait until late summer to begin seeing them?” she asked.

Thad Olsen came all the way from Fergus Falls to plead for action. “If we move the primary to June, we would start seeing the campaign ads by February or March,” Mr. Olsen observed. He said that he and his co-workers at a local auto repair shop like to start focusing on the upcoming election in January or February. “We voters pay attention, but the candidates won’t air their commercials that soon unless we move up the primary,” Olsen said.

Rally organizers said the massive turnout showed strong support for S.F. 893, legislation moving the primary election from September to June. For 2008, that would nearly triple the length of the general election campaign from 8 to 22 weeks.

Olsen observed, “Sure, there may be some people who complain, but they’re just whiners. We want campaigns to last year-around. This bill is a step in the right direction, making the campaigns much longer.”

“Many people don’t pay much attention to politics. But if we make the campaigns longer, I’m sure they'll pay more attention,” Olsen said.

...not likely.

Does Minnesota Really Need Longer Campaigns?

by Senator John Marty

Ask Minnesota voters whether they want longer or shorter campaigns. No doubt 90 percent or more think they are already too long.

Yet despite strong public opposition to long campaigns, legislation to make the election season three months longer -- moving the primary from September to early June -- is likely to pass this year. It has support from some of the state's wealthiest campaign donors and candidates, numerous lobbyists, campaign consultants and both the DFL and Republican Parties. Against that political clout, it may not matter how many voters object.

Voters might support a Presidential primary early in the year to increase Minnesota's influence in the presidential nomination process, but the date of the state's primary for other offices is totally unrelated to that.

Supporters of a June primary argue that there is not enough time for candidates to get their message out to voters. But the problem isn't a lack of time; it is political parties and candidates providing too little substance and relying on 30-second attack ads that do little to educate voters.

In other democracies around the world, where campaigns are shorter, voters are more engaged and voter turnout is significantly higher. The same holds true in Minnesota, which has one of the shortest general election seasons among the states but the highest public involvement and voter turnout. Shorter, more intense elections help focus public attention on the issues and candidates.

The biggest change voters would notice if the primary moves from September to June would be three more months of political ads -- as candidates begin bashing each other in those misleading TV ads beginning as early as March or April. The campaign advertising season already lasts so long that many voters are turned off before they begin to pay serious attention.

It is not as if candidates wait until the primary to go door-to-door, meet voters and discuss issues. The date of the primary is largely irrelevant to their voter education and contact schedules.

Supporters of the June primary argue that it is difficult to get absentee ballots to overseas voters when the primary is only eight weeks before the general election. But there are better ways to address that problem.

Supporters of the June primary also make the argument that Minnesota’s September date means candidates coming through a divisive primary face a disadvantage with less than two months before the election. But history shows that heavily contested primaries don't put the primary victor at a disadvantage heading towards November.

I agree that the pre-primary campaign season is too long, and too much energy is spent in the internal party selection process. But making the general election campaign too long as well, is no solution. The June primary legislation does nothing to rein in the number of months that candidates spend campaigning. There is no easy way to do so, short of passing much-needed campaign finance reform, something that the political parties and strongest supporters of the June primary have opposed.

It is significant that the wealthiest contributors and candidates, political consultants and both the DFL and Republican Parties support the June primary. These are the very people responsible for the majority of those uninformative, misleading, and often nasty TV ads. These folks are the ones who develop, fund, and air the ads. They have the most to gain if they get three more months to blast their ads at the public.

The way campaigns are currently run and financed is broken and urgently needs reform, but the solution is not to lengthen campaigns and spend more money. More money and longer campaigns are a dream of political consultants, not the average citizen.

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