Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Good, Old-Fashioned Conspiracy Theory of 2012 Primary Movement

There has been no lack of state legislative action to move or cancel 2012 presidential primaries during the first two months of 2011. With the national parties coordinating the development of the calendar aspect of their respective delegate selection rules -- settling on a first Tuesday in March start date for all non-exempt states -- most of that proposed movement in active legislation in state legislatures is backward and not forward thus far in the 2012 cycle. That can have implications for how the candidates approach certain states strategically. Depending on how the calendar ends up, and which states are where, certain candidates could have advantages over their counterparts. Most of this discussion has focused on the first four states; that Romney might skip Iowa or that he will do well in New Hampshire and Nevada. But what is missing is a look at what might happen after that. Much of that will, of course, depend on what states end up forming that second tier of contests behind the four exempt states. That is why the evolution of this particular primary calendar is consequential.

Where does the formation of the second tier currently stand? Some states have proposed legislation to shift the dates on which their presidential primaries are held, yet others have not. Is there any pattern that has emerged in the states where legislation has been introduced and those early states that have to this point remained inactive?

[Click to Enlarge]

Well, actually there is. There are 18 primary states with 2012 contests currently scheduled out of compliance with national party rules. That list expands to 19 if Washington, DC is included. Of those 19 states (highlighted in yellow and green in the map above), eight have proposed legislation to move their presidential primaries back (Those states marked by a black circle.). Ten of those states were states in which Mike Huckabee either won the primary or placed second to John McCain. The remaining nine states were ones where Mitt Romney either won or came in second to McCain.

While the overall division is nearly even, the distribution of states with legislation to move primaries to later dates saw decidedly more Huckabee support than Romney support in the early 2008 contests. Six of the eight states with legislation work its way through state legislatures were Huckabee states. And of the two Romney states one, Florida, has shown a certain resistance to moving despite Democrats having proposed legislation to move the primary back into compliance.

If the seven states with active legislation to move their primaries move back (excluding Florida) that would leave a second tier of 12 states; eight where Romney enjoyed success in 2008 and four where Huckabee won or was the runner-up. Now sure, it is early in the state legislative session, but there is an interesting pattern that has surfaced behind the states that have been either active or inactive in moving their 2012 delegate selection events.

Have at it Romney supporters and detractors.


astrojob said...

One factor that could partially explain it is that Romney does better in larger, more urbanized states. And, according to the legislative calendar you posted:


larger, more urbanized states are more likely to have longer legislative sessions, with states like NY and MI being in session year round. As such, they're not in as much of a hurry to bring up legislation on changing the primary date, as there are still many many months left in the year for them to do that.

One state I'm wondering about though is Utah. According to your calendar, their legislative session ends on March 10, and there's been no bill put forward yet to move the primary. If nothing happens by March 10, are they officially holding their primary on Feb. 7th, or is there the possibility of a special session later in the year?

Josh Putnam said...

That's a good point. Though, in this case we're only talking about a limited number of states on this list with year-round sessions: Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin (about 20% of the early, non-compliant states). Still some clarification is probably necessary.

First, most legislation is introduced early in a legislative session -- whether in a year-round state or not. [Anecdotally, Wisconsin has very few bills that have been introduced during the 2011 session thus far, and that was before the recent "gridlock" hit.] Most of the work, then, is done early on in the session and that typically applies to primary movement bills as well. Secondarily, some of these year-round states' legislatures only meet sporadically during the second half of the year.

One other factor that also plays a role is making a decision in a timely enough manner that the legislation can be enacted and ultimately implemented by elections officials (filing deadlines, ballot printing, etc.).

That said, if we were doing a study of this, the length of session would have to be included as a control variable.

You've read my mind on your Utah comment. I'm actually hoping to get a post on that very same point -- more broadly applied -- up some time today. One point that should be made about Utah in particular is that the state has a tradition of party-funded primaries. If the state legislature does not act, the state party/parties may act to shift the date back. But yes, Utah is one to watch. A change is going to have to come in the form of an amendment at this point because the deadline to introduce legislation passed on February 3.