Earth & Conservation

Why Are U.S. Presidential Elections So Long?

From announcements to election day, presidential campaigns in the U.S. can last up to two years. So how did elections get this long?

If it feels like this election season has been dragging on for years, that's because it has been, quite literally. Hillary Clinton first announced her candidacy in April, 2015 -- 576 days before election day. In the 2008 campaign, she got to the party even earlier: 654 days in advance.

Presidential campaigns in the U.S. are remarkably long and drawn-out events, relative to the rest of the world. Election season in Japan, for instance, is just 12 days long. Other countries regard the American process as profoundly weird, but as Jules Suldaltsev explains in this Seeker Daily report, the system is largely a matter of unrelated historical events.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, century, primaries and caucuses weren't particularly important to the campaigning process. Candidates didn't travel around, and states set up their primary events whenever they were convenient. There was no attempt to establish a manageable and efficient national election season. It just didn't occur to anyone.

Things changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when updates to election rules -- and the evolving role of the media -- made early primaries much more important. In 1972, the state of Iowa moved its primary to January, for an entirely practical reason: The state's outdated copy machines needed more time to process voter paperwork.

Four years later, a little-known candidate named Jimmy Carter rode his Iowa caucus win -- and subsequent national media buzz -- all the way to the White House. Carter's early jump start convinced candidates that serious campaigning had to begin in January.

RELATED: Why Don't All States Hold Primaries On the Same Day?

As such, today's candidates are essentially required to mount a long and expensive campaign. With an election cycle that effectively lasts from January to November, candidates require an enormous amount of funding to stay in the race. The dilemma has resulted in controversial public policy decisions, like the Citizens United case, which critics say exacerbates the problem of money in politics.

Other countries, like the United Kingdom, impose strict spending limits on campaigns. In Japan, Germany and France, candidates each get an equal and set amount of TV to campaign, subsidized by national campaign commissions. In Argentina, candidates can only advertise for less than a month before the election proper.

For more information on America's unique election system, check out our additional reports on primaries and caucuses, and the curious case of Iowa.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

New York Times: How Presidential Campaigns Became Two-Year Marathons

NPR: Canada Reminds Us That American Elections Are Much Longer

CNN: Brief History Of Chicago's 1968 Democratic Convention

Atlantic: How Jimmy Carter Revolutionized the Iowa Caucuses