Thursday, March 4, 2021

2020 Presidential Primary and Caucus Movement (Pre-pandemic)

[Scroll down for analysis below graphic]

For a site named for the phenomenon of states shifting their presidential primary and caucus dates to earlier periods on the calendar often clustered with a number of other states, there was not a significant change between 2016 and 2020. States moved, but it was much more muted in the lead up to 2020 than in other previous cycles like 2008

There were five fewer contests in 2020 than in 2016. That was a function of a number of states trading in caucuses for consolidated state government-run primaries. Part of that trade-in was about state parties abandoning caucuses on separate dates -- one for Democrats and one for Republicans -- for, in some cases, newly established primaries (see for example Utah and Washington).

Additionally, whereas 36 states (or state parties) moved contests in 2016, there were only 30 state moves out of 71 contests. [If both Democrats and Republicans used a primary or conducted caucuses on the same date, then those were counted as one contest (unless the moves from one party differed from the other within a state).]

States have largely learned their lesson about frontloading. That era seems to have come to a close after the 2008 cycle. Either they have shifted back to previously held later dates or they have ignored the potential for getting lost in the shuffle among a group of larger states. While there was movement forward on the 2020 presidential primary calendar -- see Arkansas and California -- the average shift among states that moved as the 2020 primaries approached was just -1.47 days, a backward move.

Most of what explains that is not the pandemic. The graphic above accounts for the movement on the calendar before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the calendar starting in mid-March 2020. Instead, what is driving the average negative movement is a group of Republican state parties either canceling primaries or opting out of them in favor of later caucuses and/or state conventions as the means of selecting and allocating national convention delegates. 

Finally, there were a handful of double moves. Both Arkansas and New York had 2016 primary laws expire at the end of 2016 which reverted each to their previous dates, Arkansas in May and New York in February. The DC Council also moved the primary in the district twice. The first change was to a date one week later on the calendar which the second reversed when the council shifted the contest up two weeks to the first Tuesday in June. On the graphic, the first move is always "underneath" the second and final move. 

NOTE: A separate post on post-pandemic movement is forthcoming.

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