Thursday, December 11, 2008

Backloading in 2012? Arkansas is Moving Closer

Back in May, just before Arkansas was to hold its primaries for state and local offices, State Rep. Nathan George (D-Dardanelle) went public with a call for legislation to move the state's 2012 presidential primary back to May from February to again coincide with the other primaries. On Thursday that call got a bit closer to reality as George and State Rep. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) prefiled a bill (HB 1021) that would come up for consideration once the 87th General Assembly convenes in January. The proposed legislation very simply strikes the changes made to Arkansas election law in 2005 when the separate February Arkansas presidential primary was signed into law by Governor Mike Huckabee.

Arkansas, then, was one of the first states to move in anticipation of 2008 and may again be quick to react with 2012 on the distant horizon. Well, why would Arkansas want to do this; to go against the frontloading trend? Here are a couple of points I made back in May about the reasoning behind such a move when this story came up the first time:
1) Financial concerns: If the return on investment is viewed as sub-par, then the decision may be made to move back and save the money. Having an influence over who the nominee is before the decision is made, though, may outweigh that. Which brings up...

2) Will 2012 more closely resemble 2004 or 2008? If it is the former, Arkansas may value that influence even if it means scant attention from the candidates among a crowded field of contests. If 2012 looks like 2008, Arkansas could move back and get more attention.
Well, if the state is making their decision on 2012 now -- in this economic climate -- then that first point will likely play a major role in the legislature's thinking on this particular piece of legislation. "Return on investment? Who needs that? Let's just save some money!" And the second point could be rendered moot by the first. "We didn't have an impact in February and we never really had an impact when the presidential primary was in May. So what does it matter when we do this? Let's just save some money!"

Now, it could be viewed as rash for the Arkansas General Assembly to act now, but the Natural state isn't likely to prove decisive anyway. [Sorry Arkansans.] The thinking in the past has been "if you can't be decisive at least be a part of the decision." In other words, make sure to hold your primary before the nomination has been decided. That rationale has spurred an awful lot of frontloading in the past. However, that could change if states continue to pinch pennies.

The implication here isn't really the backloading but the potential for coincidental primaries as a budgetary measure. Could we see, for instance, some of the northeastern states (ie: Connecticut, New York, Vermont) with late summer/early fall primaries for state and local offices move those up to coincide with their presidential primaries as a cost-saving mechanism? Instead of backloading the presidential primary, then, we witness the frontloading of state and local primaries.

I don't suspect we'll have an answer to this in any substantial way until after the 2010 midterms, the point after which most state begin mulling their plans for the next presidential election year. Regardless, it will be worth keeping an eye on.

UPDATE: Kate Bodenhamer over at CapSearch adds that the separate presidential primary cost the state $1.7 million in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, that could be a pretty good chunk of change in 2012.

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The 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar

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Jack said...

When do most states have their non-presidential primaries?

Anonymous said...

It depends. [This is something we need a map for.] Here's a fairly easy way of looking at it. Take Pennsylvania and all the states that held state-funded primaries after that point. In those states, the date on which their presidential primary was held is the same date that those other primaries were held.

In the grand scheme of things, that's not really that many states. However, all of the caucus states have later primary dates.

Other states have laws on the books that require all the primaries to be held simultaneously. I'll try and recreate the table somewhere here, but if you look at Table 1 on page 27 of my conference paper from a couple of years ago, you'll see the states (between 1976-96) that were and were not split and those that weren't. Those split states typically have their primaries for state and local offices during June or later.