Showing posts with label presidential elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label presidential elections. Show all posts

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rand Paul's 2016 Ballot Options in Kentucky

It warms FHQ's heart every time there are attempts made to find a workaround for the ballot issues Rand Paul faces in Kentucky next year. Josh Voorhees from Slate is the latest to volunteer his assistance to Paul 2016 (both for president and Senate). The thing about these pieces when they periodically pop up is that they either way over-complicate matters or miss pretty obvious alternative routes for the junior senator from Kentucky to take in running for two offices in 2016.

There are two parts to this, primary and general election. And there are different issues attendant to working around the "name can't appear more than once on a ballot" problem that are specific to each phase.

Let's look at the primary phase first.

In a perfect world -- from the Paul camp's perspective -- the Kentucky state legislature would pass legislation to create a separate presidential primary and move that election up to an earlier point on the primary calendar. That way, the senator would not appear on the consolidated primary ballot twice. However, Democrats in the Bluegrass state weathered the 2014 storm and managed to hold the Kentucky state House. Additionally, majority Democrats in the House subsequently balked at the idea of creating and funding a separate presidential primary just to benefit Senator Paul's political ambitions.

Given that partisan stalemate, what options are available to a dual Paul candidacy in 2016?1

The quickest, easiest fix is the one that Rand Paul was talking about on election night 2014. If the presidential primary cannot be separated from the other primaries, then Kentucky Republicans could simply shift the mode of delegate allocation from a primary to caucuses. That may be the best outcome for Senator Paul, but it may not be ideal to Kentucky Republicans who want to see the nomination process opened up to a broader Republican electorate.

Again, that's the easiest route, but let's assume that there are enough people against a primary-to-caucuses shift on the Kentucky Republican State Central Committee to block this move. All's lost, right? No. As Voorhees points out, Rand Paul could just sit the May Kentucky primary out and play the presidential nomination game in all the other states. He could, but that would be a rather strange, if not ridiculous, path to take. That strikes FHQ as a last, last resort, ranking after even the court challenges options.

Let's think about this for a second. It seems to FHQ that it was all the rage in late 2011, and my god, stretching into primary season in 2012, to devise some way for a Republican candidate not in the then in the race to enter, challenge the sure-to-falter/moderate Mitt Romney and win the nomination at the convention.2 But some of those lessons apply here.

One thing that FHQ has not seen discussed in the context of this Paul/ballot problem is the possibility of a write-in campaign during the primary. Its absence from the discussion may be for good reason: Kentucky law prohibits it. No candidate who is on the ballot elsewhere is eligible to be a write-in candidate.3 Voters can write the name "Rand Paul" in on the ballot in droves, but those votes would not be counted because Paul would not be eligible (having already appeared on the ballot as a senate candidate).

The other viable option -- if we're still assuming there is a consolidated May primary in Kentucky -- is to use the uncommitted option. If the race is still competitive in mid-May and Rand Paul remains one of the viable alternatives, then his campaign could urge supporters to vote the uncommitted line included on the Kentucky ballot -- the presidential preference portion of it anyway -- by law.4 This is not a foolproof fix -- there could be other uncommitted delegates not aligned with Paul -- but one would imagine that the Paul campaign could organize this and have its potential delegates file as uncommitted rather than for Paul. They would not be bound on the first ballot at the convention, but that is not likely to matter anyway (see footnote 4).

This seems far superior and more effective than sitting the Kentucky primary out. And such a move is not without precedent. The Obama campaign urged its supporters in Michigan to vote for "uncommitted" in 2008. The then-Senator Obama had his name removed from the Michigan ballot when it was clear that the Wolverine state would hold a non-compliant presidential primary in mid-January 2008.

As for the general election, that is a tougher nut to crack.

The write-in option is still a no-go here, there is no uncommitted option on the general election ballot, and skipping a state is not really all that workable in a fall presidential race. But game planning for the general election before the nomination is wrapped up is a bit of a double-edged sword in Rand Paul's case. To some extent it is counting your chickens before they hatch, but this ballot issue is something he would face in the primaries and the general election. There is just an easier fix in the primary phase that will not necessarily help with the general election part of the problem.

Not that these laws are enforced anyway, but Kentucky is one of the states that does not levy penalties against would-be "faithless electors". If Paul manages to get the Republican nomination there are some potential avenues opened to his campaign on that front.

If we're after a workaround for Rand Paul, though, that is much easier in the Kentucky primary. Well, it is doable in the primary. The general election is a different matter.

UPDATE (2/24/15): US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports the effort to shift the Kentucky presidential nominating method from a May primary to March caucuses. That would seemingly add some heft to the idea ahead of the Kentucky Republican Party Central Committee meeting on March 7.

1 FHQ will only focus on the options that do not go through the courts. Due to the time it would take to adjudicate a conflict between Paul and the Kentucky secretary of state's office, that is a channel of last resort for Paul. There are other more viable options available to the senator anyway.

2 Of course, no one else entered the Republican nomination race and Romney won the nomination.

3 This is relevant to the general election as well.

4 Those are big ifs. FHQ realizes talk of a brokered deadlocked convention is quite popular with such a wide open Republican race, but the invisible primary will winnow the field and with more than 30 primaries and caucuses potentially slated for the month of March, the 2016 Republican nomination race is likely to be over sooner rather than later. That more than likely means the nomination race will come to its conclusion before a May Kentucky primary.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Can a National Party Manage or Control Presidential Primary Debates?

And Can the RNC Accomplish That Goal Through New Rules?

FHQ chose to lead with this manage/control dichotomy because I think former New Hampshire governor, John Sununu, was absolutely right in January when he told the winter conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State -- in a panel FHQ was on -- that national parties are often fighting the last battle when it comes to how they will govern future presidential nomination rules. He expanded on his point by adding that those same national parties -- or at least the internal struggles within them -- attempt to control a process that can only really be managed.

Problems in the process in one cycle are not necessarily problems the next time around. And new attempts at rules often have unintended consequences. A great case in point is the addition of superdelegates to the Democratic Party process for the 1984 cycle. The intention of adding superdelegates was to empower a group of party elites to serve as arbiters in any unresolved nomination contest. But that sort of scenario did not happen in 1984. It was not until 24 years later that the term superdelegate crossed any lips outside of Democratic circles.

Another such issue, but on the Republican side, was the addition of the proportionality requirement for 2012. Now, some will argue that the lack of winner-take-all contests prior to April 1, 2012 did help to slow the Republican nomination process down. That wasn't the case. Instead it was the distribution of contests across the entire calendar -- no contests throughout much of February after a January start point and only a small trickle of contests between Super Tuesday in early March and late April when there was a Mid-Atlantic/Northeast subregional primary.

But the point is that I think of those talking points every time a new set or portion of delegate selection rules comes along. A national party has to be deliberative and careful in laying out any new rules. And sadly, there is no test facility to where either Democrats, Republicans or both can head to try these things out. Unintended consequences only come around in the midst of a primary campaign. And then it is too late.

This is a lengthy way of FHQ saying that I agree with most who have responded to the RNC debates resolution -- the one ending any potential partnering relationships between the party and CNN and NBC for the purposes of presidential primary debates -- with skepticism.

No, the party really has no control over candidates or state parties when it comes to whether they agree in principle with any debates overtures they receive from either "rogue" media outlet. If a candidate or state party wants to debate and can agree with one of those networks on the parameters of a debate, then there will likely be a debate. Granted, this is all somewhat situational. If, by 2015, there is a clear or even marginal frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, then said candidate is perhaps less likely to go along with an increasing number of debates.1 That has the impact of potentially insulating an establishment candidate. However, the RNC and any establishment candidate/campaign may actually want more debates if that establishment candidate is not the frontrunner candidate. If a frontrunner is insulated and the establishment candidate -- if there is one emergent establishment candidate -- is behind, then that desire for fewer debates dissipates.

Again though, planning -- or attempting to control -- for those types of scenarios is very difficult this far in advance. That is the sort of trap that national parties can let themselves get dragged into in efforts to fix the past. No party can fix the past, but they can affect the future in ways they cannot expect.

That's why FHQ thought former RNC chair and current co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, was dead on in his comments to Politico about regulating presidential primary debates.2 By expanding the certainty of what a bipartisan debates commission produces from the general election to the primary phase as well may open the door to an open discussion that produces a plan that eliminates the problems in the process that affect both parties. Coordinating -- even if only loosely -- the process across parties can generate a plan that may not overreach into the area of unintended consequences in the way that a one-party effort might.

The primary process has witnessed something similar over the last few cycles in terms of how the parties have collectively dealt with the issues of rogue states and frontloading of delegate selection events on the calendar. There is now a set of semi-coordinated rules and penalties in place across both parties to deal with both. That the parties are now -- even if only partly -- a united front it is better than two different mindsets on the problem.

Of course, there are two different mindsets on the debates "problem". The Democratic Party has not had the same sort of issues that the Republican Party appears to have had in 2012 and thus, does not see the need for a change. Yet, that is not that different from the differences between the parties on the above rogue/frontloading problem. After 2004, the Democratic Party wanted to nip frontloading in the bud. What it came up with was a rules-based plan to penalize not only states but candidates if states moved into non-compliant dates on the calendar and candidates campaigned in those states. Both would lose delegates.

Now, a Florida and Michigan mess later, it would not appear as if the plan worked. However, that had more to do with the fact that Democrats had attempted to go it alone rather than a flawed system. Without Republicans onboard, the plan was much less likely to succeed. Witness the provocative Florida maneuver in 2007. Florida Republicans, though they ultimately had some Democratic support in the state legislature, orchestrated the move of the Sunshine state presidential primary into January 2008.

After a second consecutive cycle that saw primary season kick off in Iowa on January 3, both parties are largely on the same page on this issue. Both national party apparatuses recognize the need for some informal coordination of rules and penalties for those would-be rogue states and candidates willing to flaunt the rules. The RNC, then, ultimately converged with the DNC on its thinking concerning doling out and enforcing penalties on rogue states; though the penalties were different across parties.

There is, though, a divergence between national parties on the thinking behind the debates issue. What the RNC sees as a problem, the DNC does not. Coordination is difficult under those circumstances. But, then again, it does not appear to FHQ that coordination is necessarily needed in this instance. It might help, but coordination is not necessary in the same way that it was on the timing and primary calendar issues above.3 [But truth be told the certainty of a united front between/across both parties on the issue of primary debates could be a good thing.]

Given that there is no convergence between the parties now, what can the RNC do to get what it wants in the realm of presidential primary debates. The resolution from the RNC summer meeting this week in Boston is one part. Theoretically, reducing the number of partnering media outlets could help to also reduce the number of debates. But that cannot be the only part or the RNC gets right back to where it started from: with uncertainty over whether candidates and state parties are actually going to toe the company line.

This is the exact reason that FHQ -- in reaction to the creation of a Rules subcommittee charged with reexamining the rules of the primary process -- mentioned that that subcommittee would be the forum in which the regulation of debates will be deliberated. They will be.

But the question remains: What can the RNC do to either manage or control this process?

There is one model out there that may provide those curious about where the party is going rules-wise with some guidance. FHQ should note that unlike some of the other rules discussions in this space -- namely the proportionality requirement and timing rules -- I have no "inside information" on the RNC's intentions. That said, there are only so many options available to the RNC and the party has a very fine needle indeed to thread to even approach getting this debates issue "right".

The truth of the matter is that the presidential nomination process involves a confluence of political interests: Those of the national party, those of the states (governments), those of the candidates and those of the state parties. [Oh, and hey, perhaps those of the voters as well.] What one group wants is not necessarily what another group desires. So, while the RNC may want to decrease the number of debates, there still exist very difficult-to-manage incentives for state parties and the candidates and their campaigns to resist that call. The answer for the national parties -- the model, it appears -- is to remove those incentives. How?

The process has seen this play out before, albeit in another area. Again, the Democratic Party devised in the wake of a second consecutive defeat to George W. Bush in 2004 a way to keep states and candidates in line in terms of the constant calendar jumping. The way that the party dealt with rogue states and candidates in the rules for 2008 was to strike at the interests of those entities. Go earlier than is required by the party rules? Lose half (then all, then half, then none of) your delegation. Campaign in a rogue state? Lose your delegates from that state at the convention.

Did Florida and Michigan defy those rules? You betcha. But the party meted out a penalty that was in effect until it was clear that 1) it would not have changed the outcome at the convention and 2) it was serving an injurious purpose to the party and its nominee by angering convention activists in two typically competitive states.

On the other end, did the penalty work on the candidates? Yes, it did. No one campaigned in Florida until after the primary -- when the rules allowed a resumption -- and no one campaigned in Michigan after it was clear in the late summer of 2007 that Michigan was, in fact, going rogue.

[It should be noted that the process of deriving and instituting these rules was partially dependent on the the campaigns -- and their surrogates within the DNC -- and the usual band of carve-out state representatives being onboard. The early states were and the would-be campaigns were as well. That was the glue that kept the rule together.]

Is this a roadmap for the RNC regulating presidential primary debates?

Yeah, I think it is one potential course of action. And on the positive side of the ledger, it is not even really something that requires buy-in from the DNC. By and large, there are not a huge number of coordinated primary debates across the parties. I can think of one coordinated, double debate that happened in New Hampshire on the eve of the primary in the Granite state in 2008. But those are the exception rather than rule. Unlike regulating the movement of primary contests -- something that involves getting past bipartisan interests within states -- this debates issue is something that can potentially be handled in-house.

The drawbacks take this conversation back to something FHQ said early on in this post. To make rules like this work, a national party almost has to get it right the first time. If the penalty isn't right (see 50% penalty for violating the RNC timing rules in 2012), then the move could backfire. There is no testing ground for this other than an actual nomination race.

So how does the RNC provide disincentive for state parties and candidates on partnering with or participating in a supposed superfluous debate (...whether on CNN, MSNBC or otherwise)? The obvious answer is by taking away delegates as the DNC did for timing violations and campaigning in 2008.

But how much? Debates are not like primaries. A primary or caucuses in a state are one-off events. They are held and over in one fell swoop. Debates are not like that. There are, for instance, multiple debates in, say, Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina during the ramp up to the actual delegate selection events in those states. Does a national party go straight for the jugular and penalize everything or a sizable amount of delegates for one rogue activity? Alternatively, does the party attempt to mete out a penalty based on the number of violations? Complicating matters, does the RNC also devise a separate penalty for partnering with unsanctioned networks? Before this notion is dismissed out of hand, recall that the RNC had no answer in 2012 for a state that violated the proportionality requirement and the timing rules. There was only one 50% delegate hit a state could receive. Once one rule was violated, the RNC had no further stick to use against multiple violations.

FHQ does not have the answers to these questions. But they are important questions that the RNC Rules subcommittee on primary rules will likely consider if they are serious about regulating these presidential primary phase debates.  If regulation is the end goal, then attacking the existing incentive structure is the only path for the party to take.

...but does that veer off into fighting the last fight or fall under the category of an evolutionary management of the system?

We'll see.

1 And yeah, there was a bit of savvy to the RNC resolution. It served two purposes. First, the move played to the base of the party by going after a familiar whipping boy: the liberal media. But as many have pointed out, it also has the byproduct -- by reducing the number of outlets for debates -- of helping to reduce the number of actual debates that take place in the lead up to and during primary season in 2015 and 2016.

2 Those comments:
Former RNC Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf encouraged Priebus after the election to set early parameters for the number of debates and coordinate with Democrats, who will face similar pressures for tons of debates — especially if Clinton decides not to run.
“My friends at the networks make a carnival atmosphere out of it all,” Fahrenkopf said. “You’ve got to this situation where a candidate was afraid not to participate in a debate, even if they didn’t want to.”

Fahrenkopf, who is co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, points to the certainty in a general election context of always hosting three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate.

“It gives the candidates cover from the standpoint of not being compelled to do every single debate because they’ll offend some interests,” he said. “I don’t know whether the right number is 10 or 12 or 8. That’s not for me. But they ought to say there will be [X] sanctioned debates. Then a candidate can say when the Lion’s Club in some small town … calls, ‘We’ve already agreed to the two sanctioned debates in New Hampshire.’”
3 That said, one could certainly see a future where there is some convergence between the parties on the presidential primary debates issue. Regardless of whether any speculative new rules work for the Republican Party in 2016, the Democrats could -- as the Republicans ultimately did on the calendar issues -- come to the same conclusion. Debates are too numerous and detrimental to the nomination process and/or the success of the party's nominee in the general election. That may not happen in 2016 or even 2020, but one could envision a time when the Democrats' are pushed in that direction.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

August Presidential Primary Resurrected in Kentucky Legislation

FHQ dealt with this in great detail last year when a bill to move the Kentucky presidential primary to August passed the Republican-controlled state Senate. The experience of having that legislation die in the Democratic-controlled House has not dissuaded Senate Republicans from pursuing the idea again though.  Senate President David Williams (R-16th) has introduced SB 7 -- legislation similar to the bill last year -- which would shift the Kentucky presidential primary (and those for state and local offices not elected in off-years) from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August.

Section 8 of SB 7:
(1)       Subject to KRS 118.555, on the first Tuesday after the first[third] Monday in August[May], in each presidential election year, the Commonwealth of Kentucky shall conduct presidential preference primaries[primary elections] within each political party.
As FHQ said of the bill last year:
The stated intent of the bill is to free up the legislature to focus on their work -- at least the controversial work -- without fear of being challenged in a primary by an opponent who entered the race because of a vote on a contentious piece of legislation. The filing deadline is in January for the May primary and many Kentucky legislators apparently wait until after the filing deadline and know who, if anyone, they will be facing off against in May before addressing potentially divisive legislation. And with the legislative session ending in March, the overall efficiency of activity in the legislature can be negatively affected.
See "Kentucky Moving to August" for much more than you would otherwise want to know about the implications of such a move.

...and no, this bill is not any more likely to get through the Democratic-controlled House or be signed into law by the Democratic governor than its predecessor.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Presidential Election Funding Bill Introduced in the US House

Occasionally FHQ will wade into discussions on campaign finance or campaign finance reform and typically those instances are reserved for times a consequential loophole has been discovered and utilized or when new legislation is introduced to deal with the perceived problems within the system. And hey, go ahead and throw in a reference or two to the Citizens United decision while you're at it. But as was the case with the congressional election funding system proposed during the 2009 session of the 111th Congress, David Price's (D-NC, 4th district) revamped presidential election funding bill (HR 414) that was introduced on January 25 is likely going nowhere fast. This is even clearer given that the Republican Party now controls the House and furthermore that the party just voted to eliminate the system altogether as a means of cutting costs.

But let us set those realities to the side for a moment and look at the new provisions within the bill on the merits. The key with any bill on the campaign finance front is that it offer prospective candidates enough of a carrot that they voluntarily opt into the system in the first place. In other words, if a candidate has to think about whether he or she can out-raise the new limits then the battle has already been lost. Here are some of the highlights:

In the primaries phase:
  • The dollar for dollar match from the federal coffers jumps to a 4:1 ratio. For every dollar raised, the federal government matches with four. This was the same ratio that was used in the congressional funding system from 2009.
  • The US government will match up to $100 million. If, as a candidate, you can raise $25 million, then you get $100 million from the government funding system. That $125 million sum -- which would/could be available six months prior to the first delegate selection event -- sounds reasonably sufficient until you see that Obama was able to raise that $25 million in the first quarter of 2007 and was just getting started at that point. In a crowded field with multiple frontrunners that might work, but that doesn't happen all that often.
  • Contributions limits are adjusted based on inflation, but the overall caps on what the government will match do not.
In the general election phase:
  • The bill includes a repeal of federal funding of national party conventions. This is strange to me. I get the intent, but if you are going to argue that the parties should fund this, should not the argument also be made that parties should handle the funding of candidates as well? Both are party business after all. [Yes, there are several attendant conflicts on the latter point, but it should not go unmentioned.]
  • To receive any general election matching funds a candidate must have participated in the primary matching phase.
  • The cap on what the government will match is $150 million ($50 million plus a 4:1 match capped at $100 million). That's approximately double what McCain got in 2008 and about the same amount that Obama raised in September 2008 alone.
The campaign finance system may be worth saving, but it will ultimately take more than baby carrots to entice candidates into the program in the first place. There is a lot more to this bill (have a look yourself), but given the comparatively low caps and the fact that the Republican-controlled House will never go for this, HR 414 is destined to die in committee. Still, it represents something interesting at which to look.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Presidential Primary Reform Week: The Fair and Representative Presidential Primaries Act of 2009

This is part three B in a series of posts this week dealing with presidential primary reform. As a refresher you can also look at FHQ's earlier synopsis of several of the various reform proposals that have been talked about and/or considered. The maps are a little clunky, but will suffice for now. I'm planning a revamping of them in the not too distant future. You can also find part one (National Primary with a Twist) here, part two (Two Birds, One Stone) here and the first installment of part three here.

Let me level with you. I didn't like those maps I appended to yesterday's post on the Fair and Representative Presidential Primaries Act of 2009. First of all, they are based on a rudimentary online map-making program that I started using when FHQ got into the electoral college analysis business. And as I said, they are a bit clunky. But as it turns out, that wasn't the only issue.

I realized today that the link to the current legislation (S.1433) before the Senate (or in committee there) accidentally linked to a story on the bill's sponsor, Bill Nelson (D-FL). When I got the real link up and running I looked more closely at the outline of the legislation; specifically the region/subregion set up. What I discovered was that the subregion lottery process -- the one that had been in the example I based my maps on -- had been scrapped in favor of just setting the subregions from the outset. Well, that meant I had to change the map, which meant I had to update the map (Well, not had to so much as felt compelled to.).

Just for the record, then, let's set this straight:
1) First, the country is split into six regions.

[Click to Enlarge]

2) Then, one or more of the states from each of those numbered regions is selected to go during one of the six contest days throughout the March to June primary season. Each region, then, is represented on each of those contest days. As is the case with other regional primary systems, this plan also has a rotation. The first subregion group (subregion A) to go in 2012, say, would go during the last week in 2016 with all the other subregional groups advancing one week earlier in the process. Instead of going first, Iowa would go during the fifth contest day of the schedule during the first iteration, for example. So, by 2028, the Hawkeye state would back in the catbird seat. [That comment has just triggered riots in Des Moines, Davenport and Iowa City. Sorry guys.] This second map shows the proposed subregions from the bill and factors in the timing component as well. The earlier a state or subregion is, the darker it is shaded.

[Click to Enlarge]

Let me close with a request. The brown gradient makes sense on the subregion map, but I debated going with the gradient you see in the regions map or just six different colors. To me, the different colors just looked too "rainbowy." However, there isn't really a trend there and that's what gradients like the frontloading maps in the left sidebar are good at depicting. That isn't the case here, though. If you have a preference for one over the other then just let me know in the comments section.

UPDATE: It probably would be fair of me to include the alternative map I mentioned above as well. I mean, we do want people to make informed decisions, right?

[Click to Enlarge]

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Presidential Primary Reform Week: Congressional Action

This is part three in a series of posts this week dealing with presidential primary reform. As a refresher you can also look at FHQ's earlier synopsis of several of the various reform proposals that have been talked about and/or considered. The maps are a little clunky, but will suffice for now. I'm planning a revamping of them in the not too distant future. You can also find part one (National Primary with a Twist) here and part two (Two Birds, One Stone) here.

Today's post isn't so much about breaking new ground as it is about relaying some recent news that has been, to this point, lost in the shuffle. Two weeks ago, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) re-introduced the bill (with Michigan Senator Carl Levin as a cosponsor) that he put before the chamber during the first session of the 110th Congress (2007) and attempted to raise awareness of during heated negotiations over the Florida/Michigan situation in the Democratic nomination process of 2008. S.2024 lapsed when the 110th adjourned and would have established an interregional primary lottery system. As of July 9, that same plan was back, but in the form of S.1433, the Fair and Representative Presidential Primaries Act of 2009.

But what exactly is an interregional primary lottery system? Let's take a tour, shall we?

The basic premise is the same as the Dingell-Anuzis plan I described in this space a year ago:
Dingell-Anuzis Modified Plan:
This is the plan that has been introduced in Congress. It divides the nation into six regions and splits primary season into six contests that are three weeks apart beginning in March and ending in June. Under this plan, Iowa and New Hampshire lose their favored, early positions. The contests are not simply made up of the regions though.
[Click to Enlarge]

[Please excuse the maps here. They are badly in need of some refurbishing. Still, they get the point across.]
There are six contests, but a lottery determines what week anywhere from one to four states from each region will hold their contests. The map below shows one possible way that a lottery could split the states. The fifth week (in brown), for example, takes one state from each region: New Jersey from the Northeast, North Carolina from the South, Maryland from the Border states, Illinois from the Upper Midwest, Louisiana from the Southwest, and Oregon from the West. Believe it or not, the Michigan-based plan has Michigan going during the first week of the process during the first iteration.
[Click to Enlarge]

This plan didn't move in Congress in 2008 because of the election and likely won't go anywhere during the 111th Congress either simply because both parties are tinkering with their nomination rules at the moment. As long as reform from the parties remains an open issue (and we'll know by sometime in the summer of 2010), Nelson's plan will be in a holding pattern. However, should both parties fail to make at least some reforms, Nelson is apt to up his rhetoric on the issue. But in the meantime, this bill only serves to put some tangential pressure on the parties to get something meaningful done on the presidential primary reform front.*

Regardless, the bill is active and we have the means of tracking its progress (or lack thereof) from here on out.

*I say tangential because it is an open question as to whether Congress would even have the ability to intervene on this issue. But I'll have more on that on Friday.

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Presidential Primary Reform Week: Two Birds, One Stone

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Presidential Primary Reform Week: Two Birds, One Stone

This is part two in a series of posts this week dealing with presidential primary reform. As a refresher you can also look at FHQ's earlier synopsis of several of the various reform proposals that have been talked about and/or considered. The maps are a little clunky, but will suffice for now. I'm planning a revamping of them in the not too distant future. You can also find part one (National Primary with a Twist) here.

A couple of months ago I got an email from Matthew Sanderson (former McCain-Palin campaign finance counsel) with another innovative idea for presidential primary reform. Up until now, I didn't know what to do with it, but since the news on reform has quietly ramped up of late (more coming later in the week), I have an opportunity to put Mr. Sanderson's idea out there. Here's the premise as Matt laid it out to me. [As always, you can read the full proposal here -- a forthcoming article in the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. It is a pdf file, but is freely available. And yes, it's a lengthy read, but is chock full of great background research.]

Two Birds proposes a package of reforms that would pivot the Public Funding System away from its current emphasis on spending limits and retool it to combat frontloading in the presidential nomination process. The proposed reforms include: (1) delaying the System's matchable-contribution and disbursement dates until October 1st of the pre-election year and April 1st of the election year, respectively; (2) forcing candidates to compete for a single pool of funds, with no guaranteed maximum or minimum amount; (3) transforming the general-election grant into a matching-funds program, similar to that currently used during the primary-election period; (4) eliminating the grant to political parties for national conventions; and (5) creating new, unconventional benefits for public funding participants, such as automatic ballot access.

First of all, if you thought the FairVote plan discussed yesterday was ambitious, it has nothing on Matt's plan to overhaul not only the presidential nomination process but to fix campaign finance as well. Also, there's more to it, but for our purposes I'll try to focus on just the frontloading and presidential primary finance mechanisms. If you have thoughts on the other portions of the proposal feel free to sound off in the comments section.

At face value, I love this idea. As the title implies, two birds (frontloading and campaign finance), one stone (well, several small stones thrown together really). The entire idea is predicated on motivating the presidential candidates -- especially the main contenders -- to opt into the changes to the campaign finance system and that states' hands will be forced as a result, moving them into compliance vis a vis primary and caucus scheduling. That's not necessarily a complicated process, but getting there would be a real battle. Let's put the pieces together:

1) Move the matchable contribution date from January 1 to October 1 in the year prior to the election and move the disbursement date from January 1 to April 1 of the election year. I can buy that. If contributions are not matchable until the October prior to primary season kicking off and matching disbursement checks are not handed out until April of the election year, then participating candidates would be unable effectively campaign in many states earlier than April. As such, states would be motivated to shift to a point in the calendar when candidates would and could actually pay them some mind.

That's all well and good, but how do you get candidates to opt in? That's the big question, right? Fixing frontloading, as detailed here, can only be fixed if the major candidates accept the terms of the enhanced system.

2) Well, that piece of the puzzle is dependent on a handful of factors. First, the stick. If you opt in as a candidate, you are in for both the primary phase and the general election phase. None of this opting out for the primaries and crawling back in for the general election (see Bush, George W., Kerry, John and McCain, John). But there's also the carrot (multiple ones actually). First, participating candidates can take advantage of a cap-less pool of money and can do so to the detriment of their opponent. That is, instead of the $160+ million cap on 2008 general election funds for example, there would be no cap. On top of that, if you raise more than your opponent, you get more than your opponent. Furthermore, if your opponent goes it alone outside of the proposed system, you get everything in the pool. Oh, and there is a 4:1 matching fund ratio to sweeten the deal.

Not bad, huh?

No, it isn't. But the one problem I have with all of this is this: What if, as a candidate, you know you can out-raise your opponent and what he or she can gain from the new system? Even if Barack Obama had ceded the entire $168 million in federal money to John McCain in 2008, the then-Illinois senator still would have been able to out-raise/out-spend the Arizona senator. But that's somewhat underhanded of me. This system applies to both the primaries and the general election. Obama didn't necessarily know in February 2008 that he could outdo McCain financially in the general election. He would have been more concerned with Hillary Clinton at the time. More to the point, he would have been interested in how he'd stack up financially compared to the former First Lady. Would the promise of matching money in the fall have been enough pie in the sky to bring Obama to the table in the Two Birds-One Stone system? Perhaps.

Here's the thing: The more I think about this, the more I think of how perfectly it would have worked in the 2008 environment. But what about other elections? If you're an incumbent and see a close election on the horizon, maybe you'd jump in (Bush 2004), but if you saw a comfortable win coming, you might just as soon opt out (Clinton 1996). Well, that's a fair number of elections right there. It is and we haven't even tackled the open seat elections. Opting in in those cases would be conditional as well, though. In 2008, sure, this system likely would have worked. I can see Clinton and Obama and McCain opting in. But in 2000, I don't think so. Gore and Bush were heavy favorites and would have quickly eschewed the parameters of this system. Both were comfortable frontrunners who were fine with the status quo in both the primaries and general election.

The key would be getting this up and running and strategically, you'd be better served doing it ahead of an open seat presidential election with no clear frontrunners. Maybe that's 2016, maybe it's not. But you would face a major obstacle in pushing this when an incumbent who can raise lots of money is running for reelection and can shun the system. Of course, I have Obama in 2012 in mind as I'm writing this. But that money could very well dry up to some extent if the economy isn't trending in the right direction by then.

But if the candidates don't buy in, then we're right back to square one with campaign finance and frontloading.

Interesting stuff, Matt.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Presidential Primary Reform Week: National Primary with a Twist

This is part one in a series of posts this week dealing with presidential primary reform. As a refresher you can also look at FHQ's earlier synopsis of several of the various reform proposals that have been talked about and/or considered. The maps are a little clunky, but will suffice for now. I'm planning a revamping of them in the not too distant future.

On Friday, FairVote went public with a novel idea for presidential nomination reform. Here's their idea (and please follow the link above to read the full explanation of the proposal):
"The entire political universe, from the heights of the Washington establishment to the depths of the grassroots, agrees that our presidential nominating process needs to be reformed. But while there is broad consensus that a problem exists, there are myriad diagnoses as to what actually needs fixing. As the parties begin internal and interparty discussions about what elements need tweaking, it‘s time to take a serious look at more extensive and comprehensive reforms that will truly fix the process. The parties should begin to debate a plan that includes traditional state-based nomination contests culminating in a final, decisive national primary." [Emphasis mine]
I really like this idea, but for a few things...

1) Coordinated action. This is another idea that will require coordinated effort from both national parties. I don't see this as the monumental roadblock that I once did. Folks from both sides seem to be mindful of the fact that now is the time to hammer something meaningful out on reform. Of course, one man’s meaningful is another man’s useless.

2) $$$$. The idea of moving congressional primaries to coincide with the national primary is ingenious. It is also imperative. Without that, states would be confronted with footing the bill for another (separate) election. I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain that this current period is not the proper time to be pushing an additional election to be paid for with taxpayer money. Call it a hunch. The other side of this is that it probably wouldn’t just be congressional primaries moved but all primaries. And there may be some complications there because that would obviously include state legislative primaries (in most states). If any perceived negative impact surfaces there, state legislators — the folks primarily tasked with initiating these election date changes — may put their own self interests above the national party’s. Now, what could be seen as a negative impact to state legislators? First and foremost, the most problematic aspect is turnout. Some legislators might prefer lower turnout primary elections. Those conditions are to their advantage, after all.

3) Delegates/conventions. One major piece missing from this puzzle is the delegate calculation. What effect does the national primary have on the allocation of delegates? Are the state contests merely just the first round (beauty contests)? Does the national primary determine the allocation of all the delegates or just a certain percentage? And finally, what does this do to the convention? I suppose the same rules apply, but this national primary idea has an air of finality to it. "The delegates are allocated. Let the general election begin!" This last point is a minor issue. If this plan was instituted, the parties, I'm sure, would go on having their conventions as if nothing had happened. It isn't as if the conventions have been decisive of late (though they could have been in 2008 if Hillary Clinton had kept her campaign going throughout the summer).

4) Candidates. What does this plan do to candidate strategy? Would candidates drop out as they do in the currently configured system? Super Tuesday does have a way of winnowing the field down to (usually) one candidate. But I don't know. Candidates may opt to tough it out. After all, the candidate who places second at the end of all the primaries and caucuses moves on to the runoff national primary. Money would be the determining factor there, though. If you don't have any money you can't go on. What a national primary like this does accomplish, though, is basically a reset. Things kinda sorta go back to the way they were prior to the McGovern-Fraser reforms in one respect: there's a prize at the end of the calendar. Look at the allocation of Democratic delegates in 1976. The date on which the most delegates were at stake was the last one on the calendar. This proposed system, however, would have all of the delegates (it seems) at stake on the final date. In that regard, some of the same dynamics that prevailed in the earlier iterations of the McGovern-Fraser system would return in the revised system. Mainly, that would mean that, sure, candidates would drop out as they do now (when they aren't catching on), but it would also potentially mean that you would have candidates jumping in the contest midstream (depending on how frontloaded the calendar is -- If the calendar is like 2008, it wouldn't have made sense for, say, Jeb Bush to have jumped in after Super Tuesday's delegate giveaway. There likely wouldn't have been enough delegates left to counter McCain's lead after February 5.) as well. Essentially, then, this proposed system would offer two opportunities for buyers' remorse: once by giving a late-arriving candidate a chance to catch on and then again in the national primary when the second place finisher goes against the frontrunner (the winner of the most contests).

5) Turnout. One last hypothetical and I'll wrap this up. What if candidates continue to drop out of the race as they do now and the winner becomes a foregone conclusion? Not only that, but what if the party is satisfied with the "presumptive nominee"? Does the national primary, then, become something akin to the conventions now: a formality? If the national primary is a formality, then that is likely going to be a low turnout affair, which is something, I think, that would be against the wishes of those who have crafted the idea. Another argument along these same lines is that the national primary, in such a situation (low turnout), would become an election ripe for insurgency. Again, let's look at the 2008 Republican nomination contest. Let's assume that everything was the same about the contest, but that there was a national primary at the end. Why would Republicans go to the polls on the national primary day? The contest is over, right? Yes and no. Seemingly McCain has won, but technically, he hasn't. What if Ron Paul was able to quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) call on his supporters to turnout and vote? Would his loyal following amount to enough to overcome a low turnout in favor of McCain? Maybe, maybe not, but here's guessing that the GOP wouldn't even want to consider the possibility. [Of course, 2008 would have played out differently had there been a national primary at the end. Neither Huckabee nor Romney would have withdrawn from the race, I suspect.]

I don’t know that any of these things are deal breakers, but I do think they are factors that would have to be ironed out to some extent to avoid any unintended consequences. And despite the fact that I often come down hard on these reform plans, what I ultimately want to avoid are unintended consequences that make matters worse. But some might argue with me about the ways in which (or whether) things could get worse in the current presidential nomination system.

Hat tip to Matthew Shugart over at Fruits and Votes for the link.

Part Two of this series tomorrow will deal with another new and sweeping reform proposal. Stay tuned...

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Friday, June 26, 2009

GOP Governors in the White House?

Here's an interesting topic for discussion on a Friday: What's the likelihood that any of the 22 Republican governors ever reaches the White House? Ken Rudin handicaps the odds over at NPR's Political Junkie. Let me add my take. Now that Mark Sanford has voluntarily/involuntarily withdrawn his name from 2012 consideration (and who's to say a future comeback isn't possible?), the line between those who realitically have a shot and those who don't can currently be drawn just after Rick Perry. And if that is the case, what can we make of the ordering of those top 8?

The common thread among this group (with maybe the exception of Rick Perry) is that all have been mentioned in one way, shape or form in connection with the race for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. [Of course, there is at least one person out there who sees Sanford's loss as Perry's gain in regard to 2012.] The order of that top eight, then, would be dependent upon who throws their hat in the ring in 2012 and by their subsequent performances in the primaries and caucuses to follow. Pawlenty, Palin, Jindal, Crist and Perry can't all be rising stars in terms of the presidency. Each affects the other if they all enter the race. How each finishes, then, essentially handicaps any future race for the nomination. And that affects the likelihood that those on the bottom half of the order reprise their nomination run.

Let's illustrate this with some examples. Both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee helped themselves for future runs by doing "well" in the 2008 nomination race. No one, for instance, is talking about Fred or Tommy Thompson or Sam Brownback running again in the future. [You could make the argument that Brownback is running for governor in Kansas as a means of positioning himself for another run at the presidency down the road. I'll grant you that. However, would he cut a second term as the Sunflower state's chief executive in 2016 to run or would he wait out a prospective second term and run in 2020 when he'll be 67? At least his 2008 run will be a distant memory by then.] In 2008 John Edwards was helped in a way similar to that of Romney and Huckabee because of his performance in the 2004 Democratic primaries and resultant VP nomination. Meanwhile, Bob Graham essentially wrote his own obituary for national office when his candidacy didn't take off.

The lesson is that, well, "this town ain't big enough for the [lot] of us." If all of those eight enter (and they won't) there will be winners and losers in terms of future presidential prospects.

Of course, the odds of making it to the White House on anything other than a tour stop are pretty long anyway.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2008 GOP Candidate Emergence, Part 3

This is part three in a series of examinations of the fluctuations in the volume of Republican candidate Google searches during the 2008 presidential election cycle. You can find part one (the invisible primary trends among the top six candidates) here and part two (the invisible primary trends minus the Ron Paul skew) here.

Last week FHQ had a look at the development of GOP presidential candidate searches in Google throughout the 2008 invisible primary period (2005-2007). When the 2008 search data is added to the full time series a much deeper glimpse at the significant jump John McCain made heading into the 2008 contests is gained. Also, Ron Paul's 2007 gains peak once primary season commences and then decay rather quickly as a McCain nomination becomes highly likely following the Super Tuesday contests on February 5.

When the Paul numbers are suppressed (see figure above), we see that the two tracks argument mentioned in the previous post (a Thompson/Huckabee track and a McCain/Romney track) breaks down as the contests get underway. Recall, that once Thompson's candidacy failed to take off, Mike Huckabee essentially filled the void entering 2008. But that more social conservative track peaks and collapses after the Iowa caucuses, leaving a two person battle (in terms of Google searches) among the moderate/fiscal conservatives on the McCain/Romney track. Until...

Super Tuesday. Once we zoom in to look at just the 2008 portion of the time series, it is apparent that (again, in terms of Google searches) Huckabee's inability to back up the Iowa win with anything prior to Super Tuesday hurt the former Arkansas governor's chances at the nomination. Romney, despite the money spent, didn't win Iowa but was able to manage victories in several states (Wyoming, Michigan Nevada and Maine) between that point and Super Tuesday. That seems to have kept him viable in Google searches until Super Tuesday when Romney bested McCain in an Obama-esque run through the caucus states while falling further behind McCain in the delegate count because of the Arizona senator's wins in larger, winner-take-all states. The former Massachusetts governor's searches plummet after that point, coinciding with his withdrawal from the race.

In that intervening Iowa to Super Tuesday period, though, the race was on that McCain/Romney track in regard to Google searches. And though Romney dropped below Huckabee upon his withdrawal, Huckabee was more an afterthought in comparison to McCain at that point anyway. We don't, for instance, see Huckabee's search levels go up following Romney pulling out of the race. And that's what we'd expect given the way these nomination campaigns have gone in the recent past: a nominee quickly emerges and everyone else falls by the wayside.

Just for a bit of perspective, let's zoom in a bit further and include just the January to August data (dropping the general election search data). McCain searches don't reach the point at which Ron Paul was at the beginning of 2008 until after the GOP convention. But what is really striking is how much that Paul presence online deteriorates as McCain is sealing the deal on the nomination (Super Tuesday to March 4). Yes, both candidates are quite similar in their search trajectories over that period, but the key is looking at where each began the year. Once the contests started McCain searches took off and Paul searches dropped precipitously.

The other thing we gain from this is that 2008 on the GOP side provides us with a case not of invisible primary candidate emergence, but of primary season candidate emergence. And that's not something that Americans have been able to witness too often in the post-reform era. It is too bad we don't have comparable data for the Ford-Reagan race in 1976.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

2008 GOP Candidate Emergence, Part 2

This is part two in a series of examinations of the fluctuations in the volume of Republican candidate Google searches during the 2008 presidential election cycle. You can find part one (the invisible primary trends among the top six candidates) here.

As the figures in part one showed, once we get to the 2007 segment of the invisible primary time series, the exponential growth of Ron Paul's search volume detracts from our ability to see the trends among the viable Republican candidates vying for the GOP's 2008 nomination. When the Ron Paul data is suppressed, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee appear to be bigger players. Both at various points during the latter half of 2007 tower over their remaining competitors in terms of their Google search traffic. You can see that in the full (2005-2007) figure above, but the 2007 snapshot below is more indicative.

In many regards we can see both candidates spikes as inter-related. Huckabee didn't jump all that much after his win in the September Iowa straw poll, but his win there coupled with the failed roll-out of Fred Thompson's candidacy seemed to boost Huckabee's profile entering the caucuses in Iowa. Essentially though, we have two tracks going here; one representing each side of the Republican Party (in its simplest binary terms). Huckabee and Thompson best typified the social conservative wing of the party; the segment of the Republican base that seemed least represented by and least enthusiastic about this pool of candidates. So much of the Republican invisible primary was about either how McCain was attempting to appeal to those voters or who the alternative would be. Through that lens, Thompson/Huckabee was that alternative.

But there was another track here as well; a more moderate or economic conservative track. This was a three person race between McCain (once the Arizona senator's campaign hit the wall in the summer of 2007), Giuliani and Romney. Giuliani's progression throughout the year though isn't all that variable, and as such, this was more of a two person battle between Romney and McCain.
[This is where Glenn's point on polling the other day is interesting: Giuliani was leading many of the polls during 2007 (see below), yet had basically flatlined in terms of search volume.]

[Click Figure for Link to Actual Polls at]

And what we see in that 2007 Google search snapshot is that Romney rises and passes McCain as the Arizona senator is falling throughout 2007. The former Massachusetts governor, then stays ahead of McCain until the calendar turns and the contests begin. With those two simultaneous trends, the GOP side is a little more interesting from a candidate emergence perspective than the Democratic side. And that the search time series doesn't comport with the polling going on during the 2007 portion of the Republican invisible primary raises some questions for us to pursue here in the future, especially regarding Giuliani. Why is it that America's mayor was polling so well, but got so little interest online?

There seems to be a better match between the two metrics concerning the other candidates. Yes, there is a Huckabee lag from search data to polling and Romney is consistently behind, though, close to McCain during the final quarter of 2007. On the whole though, the rising and falling of each candidate roughly corresponds across both measures (it is a matter of shifting the whole line that differs across both) with the exception of Giuliani, whose numbers are widely divergent between the two.

These data are designed to elicit questions rather than answer them, and I think we've got that here.

Up Next: the GOP candidates in 2008

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

2008 Republican Presidential Candidate Emergence: The View Through Google Trends

To avoid chart saturation here, I'll break this examination of 2008 GOP candidates into three parts. The first part will focus on Republican candidate emergence during the invisible primary, the second part will drop Ron Paul in the context of 2007 to better ascertain search volume shifts during the latter half of that year, and finally part three will look at how things changed once primary season began.

As I mentioned in the series of posts investigating the shifts in Democratic candidate search volumes, the early speculation following the 2004 election and entering the 2008 invisible primary centered on a potential John McCain-Hillary Clinton general election. Well, the US got half of that last November, but early on Google searches favored both the New York senator and the Arizona senator overall. On the Republican side, though, there certainly is McCain red hovering over the other colors across much of the 2005-2006 period. And that's somewhat in keeping with the "next one in line" nominations that the GOP has had more often than not throughout the last generation.

But the full invisible primary (2005-2007) time series does not really provide us with the true nature of McCain's search volume relative to his most viable competitors for the nomination (for reasons that seem obvious simply by looking at the charts, but that FHQ will get into momentarily). If we zoom in on each of the three years individually, though, we get a better glimpse of what McCain's real advantage was. Again, McCain's volume is ahead of the other five candidates through 2005 (other than when Fred Thompson shot up in the summer when Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court and the former Tennessee senator was named by the Bush administration as the head of an informal group to guide her replacement, John Roberts, through the confirmation process.). Now, it is important to note here that there are no doubt endogeneity issues here as the media coverage of events in the political realm certainly has an impact on the volume of search traffic for a particular keyword. In other words, a search for anyone of these candidates is not necessarily a presidential run-related search.

However, that certainly changes somewhat as attention shifts toward the presidential race at the conclusion of the 2006 midterms (see above). All six candidates see at least a modest jump following the elections that brought the Democrats back into control of both houses of Congress. Again though, McCain is ahead across much of that year.

Heading into 2007 that progression continues. Mitt Romney's stock rises and finally surpasses McCain during the summer 2007 low point for the Arizona senator's campaign. More interestingly, though, Fred Thompson's search volume increases upon the formation of his presidential candidacy exploratory committee. The online chatter behind his potential candidacy continued into the summer months. As McCain's prospects waned, Thompson's grew. But Thompson's strength was as a potential candidate. Upon officially entering the race in September 2007, the former Tennessee senator quickly underwhelmed hopeful conservatives, losing ground online.

Of course, much of this Thompson spike is -- which is really quite an interesting case of candidate emergence -- is clouded by the sudden and consistent growth of Ron Paul online. The Texas congressman's close in 2007 dwarfed even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's heading into the election year. And those were two of the top three candidates in a Democratic field most Democratic voters were very enthusiastic about. Despite the following online (and this was something the power of which FHQ readers were recently reminded of), Paul just wasn't a serious candidate, and his numbers affect our ability to see the movement among the other five candidates who were all viable options heading into 2008.

Before examining the 2008 context, though, we'll look at the GOP invisible primary sans Ron Paul. Fred Thompson searches will appear much more significant and we'll better see the movement around other candidates (especially Mike Huckabee after his Iowa straw poll win and Fred Thompson's false start.). That's where we'll turn our attention next.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What About 2008? Democratic Presidential Candidates Through the Lens of Google Trends

Yesterday, FHQ looked at the Google Trends search volume for the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates between 2005 and 2007. The goal was to look for the emergence of the candidates during the invisible primary. And what happened, on the Democratic side at least, was more a case of candidate displacement than candidate emergence. Barack Obama basically overtook John Edwards as the Hillary Clinton alternative.

Invisible primary aside, though, what does the search volume look like for each of the top five candidates once primary and caucus contests begin providing tangible results in January 2008?

Well, for starters, tacking on that extra year and the election day spike really dwarfs some of the earlier data. What's important, though, is that red line (Obama) spikes in early 2008 and stays above the yellow line (Clinton) through mid-June when Clinton's volume trails off. Sure this gives us some scale, but that election day jump for Obama is deterring us from seeing some of the changes from the invisible primary.

If we cut off the data at September 2008 -- just after the Democratic convention -- we lose some of the skew from that election day spike. Instead of one multi-colored line running across the bottom of the time series from January 2005 to November of 2006, we can actually see Hillary Clinton hovering above the other potential candidates instead of appearing to be one in the crowd (while still appearing to be at the top).

The picture is clearer still when just the 2008 data is isolated. Obama still is clearly ahead of Clinton throughout the time series, but there are certainly some fluctuations given the events on the ground. The space between Obama and Clinton is widest following Super Tuesday in early February and Obama's streak of wins to close out the month. Wright, bitter-gate and losses to Clinton in Texas and Ohio in March, however, closed that gap. Obama, though, maintains that lead, diminished though it is until the nomination contests end and Clinton withdraws.

Again though, much of this tracks with the events that were happening in the contest at the time, but Glenn does raise an interesting point. What does polling look like during this period? That's obviously another layer to add into this; one that Cohen, et al. (cited in original post) considered. In the original study, (actually Karol et al. 2003), they found that endorsements had three times the impact on polls than polls had on endorsements during the invisible primary period. No, that doesn't answer the question in the context of the primaries and caucuses, but it does indicate that polls (like the data here) are likely next in line on the causal chain behind events in the nomination race.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate Emergence: The View Through Google Trends

The other day I speculated about value of watching Google search trends as a means of tracking presidential candidate emergence. As I said in that post, it is one thing to look at that in real time, but quite another to look at how this looks over the course of an entire invisible primary period. Fortunately Google Trends has archived search data back to January 2004 and that affords us the opportunity to put this idea to the test in the context of 2008 presidential candidate emergence.

Now, keep in mind that this is an idea still very much in its infancy (and it may stay there given the limitations of the data and other complications). First of all, what you'll see below may not be tracking an organic growth and solidifying of support behind a candidate (or viability behind a candidacy) so much as a media-triggered urge to go find out something about a candidate. If we're looking for a causal chain, then, it may be something like:
endorsement/fundraising total --> news story --> internet search
In the context of a modern campaign built on social networking (via technology especially) the chain of events isn't as clear and regardless, all of the points in that chain have something of a recursive relationship anyway.

The other caveat is much more easily accounted for. Obviously, we'd expect the volume of searches to go up as a presidential election year approaches. That kicks the chain of events (in whatever order) into hyperdrive.

All caveats aside, though, how did this look in the context of the Democratic field of candidates as they emerged, announced and ran for the Democratic nomination between 2004 and 2008?

The expectation going in is that Hillary Clinton would dwarf all the other included candidates (and I just included FHQ's estimation of the top five candidates on the Democratic side) and at some point be passed by Barack Obama. And that is generally what we see in the full chart at the top. But it is easier to see Clinton's lead in search volume across all of 2005 and well into 2006 in the yearly snapshots. Around the time of the midterm elections in 2006 we see Obama's searches shoot up. The Illinois senator's numbers increased most likely because of his appearance on Meet the Press, where he discussed the possibility of a White House run. You'll also note that Edwards numbers also jump at the end of 2006 when he announced he would be seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination. There were similar spikes for Clinton and Obama when they announced during the first couple of months of 2007.

We don't see candidate emergence here so much, but we do see some candidate displacement. Hillary Clinton was very much a factor in the 2008 presidential campaign. In conversations I had here at UGA as early as 2005 the discussion centered on a Clinton-McCain general election in 2008. To some degree then, the story is more about the emergence of an alternative to Clinton. For instance, John McCain emerged as the alternative to George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries. Edwards actually runs ahead of Obama through 2005 and 2006 (minus the Obama MTP blip), but once Obama announced his bid, he consistently ran ahead of Edwards for most of 2007. Obama, then, displaced Edwards as the Clinton alternative and that was solidified by Edwards opting into the federal matching funds system for the primaries in the late summer/early fall of 2007.

Now, we are limited by this data to some degree. These are weekly snapshots of the candidates' positions relative to each other in terms of their individual search volumes. Daily accounts are available and would provide us with a richer story (especially vis a vis the "which came first the news or the search" conundrum), but that's a something for another day.

Up next? The 2008 GOP candidates.

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