What We Can Learn From Canada’s “Marathon” Campaign

Alex Sadler, JHU:

Last Monday was a big day for our neighbors to the North. Canada elected a new Prime Minister in Justin Trudeau, the son of the late great Pierre Trudeau. Serving as Prime Minister in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Trudeau sparked “Trudeaumania” and is known for successfully engaging young people in politics. Monday’s election was a big deal for more reasons than just a Liberal resurgence. This year’s campaign was the longest campaign in Canadian history since 1872. How long was this grueling campaign? A whopping 78 days! Many Canadians worried that such a long campaign would fatigue both the voters and the candidates themselves. David Mitchell comments, “What used to be a short burst of persuasion and partisanship has suddenly morphed into an exhausting marathon. To what end?” Given that Ted Cruz, the first major American politician to announce his candidacy for 2016, announced 596 days before the November 2016 election, I think we have a thing or two to learn from the Great White North.

Before I begin, there are certainly positive aspects of having long, drawn-out political campaign processes. For one, it allows lesser-known candidates to gain recognition. A shorter campaign process may have inhibited someone like Barack Obama from rising to prominence. When he joined, it seemed like then-Senator Hillary Clinton would certainly receive Democratic nomination. But after announcing his candidacy in March of 2007, the little known Illinois Senator slowly made ground with the Democratic Party and ended up winning the Iowa Caucus (the first primary election) in January. The rest is history. While I understand the merits of having a lengthier campaign process than most, we as Americans have to admit that enough is enough. Presidential campaigns should not be 15 month, billion dollar affairs. Something’s gotta give.

$1.123 billion. That’s how much President Obama spent on his re-election campaign in 2012. Most of us are aware that there is just too much money in American politics today. Especially after this month’s New York Times article outlining the 158 families that have financed half of this cycle’s campaigns thus far. You didn’t misread that. In such long campaigns, average Americans simply cannot afford to continually make donations to candidates month after month. Cutting down on campaign length will make a difference in evening the scales at least a little bit. The current system allows donors from the highest tax bracket – on both the Republican and Democratic tickets – to bankroll campaigns while exerting top influence on any and all decision-making. The American election process took a blow in 2010 when Citizens United v. FEC was upheld in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a non-profit corporation (like a SuperPAC). This allowed for the unrestricted flow of corporate money into campaigns. Citizens United greatly increased corporate power while reducing your rights. For large corporations, investing a few hundred thousand dollars into a campaign is nothing more than an investment. An investment: It is very difficult for grassroots campaigns to compete when companies are donating millions like chump change. Sheldon Adelson, George Soros, Larry Ellison. Republican or Democrat does not matter. Both parties are providing a select group of people within the party a disproportional amount of sway and influence.

57.5% of eligible U.S. citizens voted in the 2012 election. Almost half of all eligible American voters did not vote in the last presidential election. It’s no secret that the United States has a serious problem with political apathy. Although not perfect, our Canadian counterparts had a 68% voter turnout rate, a significantly larger showing than our previous elections. A September article written by the Huffington Post states that 73 percent of Americans are not currently paying any attention to the Presidential campaigns. Presidential campaigns should be memorable, special occasions. Starting them 20 months before the candidate actually takes office detracts from the exciting opportunity of electing a new head of state. Americans have simply become desensitized to campaigns. Just as campaigns are grueling for the candidates, they fatigue the voters as well. This year’s election features twelve Republican primary debates, and although Donald Trump’s hairpiece is wildly entertaining, seeing it over and over again may eventually become boring.

After announcing his re-election bid a full 19 months before Election Day, Barack Obama had to juggle campaigning while simultaneously leading the free world. How can we, as a nation, expect the president to do his or her job if they have to campaign and fundraise money for almost half of the first term? As with universal healthcare, it seems the United States is the last developed country to hop on the bandwagon. Campaign reform is a lesson we can learn not just from our neighbors to the north but from our friends in Western Europe as well. In the United Kingdom, the Queen typically dissolves Parliament around a month before Election Day to allow for campaigning to take place. 1 month, not 19 months. The official campaign period in France begins just 2 weeks before Election Day. Maybe the U.S. isn’t ready for such a brief campaign period, but there are certainly strides that can be made. I know that we like to say that everything is bigger and better in the U.S., but maybe quality over quantity is a policy we should further examine. I for one would appreciate an intensive 6-month campaign period with well timed debates and heavy media coverage to the current 20-month campaign struggle bus we are currently riding. There is more than a year to go until we elect a new President but by the media coverage, it seems like the election is tomorrow. If this country wants to seriously target youth voters and spurt more interest in politics, a serious shift is needed to cater to today’s 6-second Vine watching millennials. I refuse to wait more than two days for my packages from Amazon, what makes you think I can tolerate a year and a half of election coverage?

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