Thursday, August 18, 2011

Myth #2: Budgetary Constraints Have Driven 2012 Presidential Primary Movement

Following up on FHQ's takedown of the misinterpretation of the altered Republican National Committee rules on 2012 delegate selection, we wanted to address one other aspect of the primary calendar that has been repeatedly exaggerated in the news throughout 2011. Much has been made of how much states are struggling economically, and this has in some cases extended to discussions of the scheduling of presidential primaries for next year.

This came up early in 2011 when the Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin raised the specter of the Bay state not having enough money for its Elections Division to conduct elections -- presidential primary elections included -- in 2012. A bill was later introduced to consolidate the March presidential primary and the September primaries for state and local office in June in order to save money and comply with the federal MOVE act. That perfect storm, as FHQ called it, of factors could potentially have tempted states with early presidential primaries and and non-compliant -- with the MOVE act -- fall primaries for state and local offices to consolidate them. The only problem was that the Massachusetts bill got stuck in committee and no other late fall, and thus non-compliant, primary states made any effort toward moves similar to that in the Bay state.

Meanwhile, other state legislatures began seeing the introduction of bills to consolidate separate and early presidential primaries with later but MOVE act-compliant compliant state and local primaries. States like California and New Jersey with newly created separate presidential primaries for 2008 opted to hold their presidential delegate selection concurrent with June state and local primaires.1 The Alabama legislature opted to move its separate presidential primary from February to March and shifted its June state and local primaries up to that point as well. Those bills had clear budgetary components.

And though they had budgetary implications, the efforts to cancel primaries in Kansas, Washington and Utah were less about that than about funding a little-used or less traditional primary election in the first place. Kansas has not held a presidential primary since 1992, so there are other factors involved in the Sunflower state. In Washington, the caucus system has been the preferred mode of delegate allocation in presidential nomination races over the years. The Washington Republican Party used the primary as a means of allocating 49% of its delegates in 2008, but the Democrats used the caucuses completely with a meaningless, beauty contest primary. Similarly, in Utah the tradition has been to use the caucus system. The state legislature instituted a Western States Presidential Primary for the 2004 cycle; something that only lasted, like the separate presidential primaries in California and New Jersey, for a brief period.

There are stories in each state, but the fact of the matter is that the above six states are the only ones where budgetary constraints played any direct role in the scheduling of the states' delegate selection events for the 2012 cycle. However, there have been primary/caucus moves in 27 states plus the District of Columbia thus far in 2011. Only six of those 28 states representing 21% of the moves thus far can be explained by state-level budgets.

Good or bad? Well, let's look at this from another angle. If we divide states into those that stayed ahead of the April 1 winner-take-all barrier constructed under the RNC delegate selection rules we end up with two groups of state moves:2

[Click to Enlarge]

The states in red are states that moved into slots in March or before while the blue states are those that shifted to new dates after March for 2012 relative to the 2008 date. It is no coincidence that the states are color coded as they are. States that moved back from non-compliant February or earlier dates in 2008 to dates in March in 2012 were states motivated to have an impact on the Republican nomination in 2012 with a primary scheduled on or around the earliest date allowed by the national party rules. In other words, the expectation is that these states would be mostly Republican or Republican-controlled states. With the exceptions of the Minnesota, Maine and Utah Democratic Parties' decisions to hold March caucuses, the remaining March states are all Republican-controlled.3 Seven of the ten March contests were dictated by Republicans.

What about the blue states? Are they actually Democratic blue or as Democratic blue as the red states were Republican red? This can be misleading because the Democratic caucus states -- with the exception of Utah above -- opted for contests in April or later. That is a list that includes Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Michigan. Of the remaining ten primary states -- including DC -- only Ohio is under unified Republican control. The party also controls the New Jersey governor's mansion and the New York Senate, but the state governments are otherwise controlled by the Democrats. Even if New Jersey and New York are not added to the tally, seven of the ten states are Democratic-controlled and thus less bound by the rules as usual.4

Moving to the front of the primary calendar is less urgent for a party without a contested nomination race. Typically is has been unusual for a party outside of the White House to tweak its rules and delegate selection at the national or state level (Klinkner 1994). However, with both national parties agreeing on a basic framework for the calendar -- that all non-exempt states begin holding primaries and caucuses on or after the first Tuesday in March -- February primary states both Republican and Democratic were faced with having to change the dates of their contests. Democratic states, since they were required to move anyway, opted to move to later dates that would yield them additional delegates to the convention.

Budgets may have had an impact on the scheduling of 2012 primaries and caucuses, something that has rarely been a factor driving frontloading in the past. Yet, it appears that the better explanatory factor driving primary movement in 2012 is more partisan than budgetary in nature. Did budgets play a role? Yes, but it was far less a role than other factors. Primarily, this has been a partisan phenomenon.

1 New Jersey has yet to enact its primary consolidation bill into law. It has passed the legislature but awaits Governor Chris Christie's signature. For this exercise, FHQ will count New Jersey as having moved.

2 FHQ put this map together for a talk I gave at the University of Georgia at the end of July.

3 The Virginia Senate is narrowly controlled by state Democrats, but the bills that passed the legislature were Republican-sponsored and supported by the Democrats.

4 With those two included, 90% of the states with new post-March dates are Democratic or mostly Democratic-controlled. And with the nine Democratic caucus states included the numbers are even more tilted.

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