Campaigns and elections

The Importance of the Invisible Primary

John Sides Jul 5 '11

Hans Noel sits down for an excellent Q&A with Greg Marx about the role of parties in presidential nominations.  Hans is one author of The Party Decides — a book that I think anyone reporting on the 2012 presidential primary should read.  Apropos of Brendan Nyhan’s and my discussion of political science and political journalism, here is one exchange:

Q: …You earned your undergraduate degree from Medill, and worked for a few years as a journalist before starting your scholarly career. So to ask you to put your editor’s hat on, how would you structure campaign coverage to reflect the story as you see it?

A: One thing you could do is—and I don’t want to overstate the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire; they are important but they’re not the end-all and be-all—you could have someone be responsible for learning about what’s going on in Iowa. So they would go and talk to the various party leaders in Iowa, various activists, people who have been influential in earlier campaigns. You would cover Iowa, rather than covering Michele Bachmann in Iowa. It’s daunting to say, go and understand a whole state. It’s harder than it is to follow around a particular candidate. But that is the place where the questions need to be asked.

You could also, for example, assign whoever is paying attention to congressional politics to keep track of the discussion there. And in general, try to find as many possible ways to divide things into coverage areas that lead to people making the decision. If you talk to Bachmann, she’s made her decision—she wants to run. And no one in the Bachmann campaign is trying to decide whether to support Bachmann. You want to talk to people who are trying to decide: do I support Bachmann, or Romney, or Gingrich, or Pawlenty, or whomever? And the only place we really see that routinely is in polls, where we ask voters to make that decision. But there are a lot of other people who are making that decision.

See also Jon Bernstein’s reaction.