Showing posts with label divisive primaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label divisive primaries. Show all posts

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Potential Impact of Divisiveness in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

The following is a guest post from Paul-Henri Gurian, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia.

Earlier this year my colleagues and I published a research article on the impact of divisiveness in presidential campaigns. (“National Party Division and Divisive State Primaries in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1948-2012”, Gurian, Burroughs, Atkeson, Cann and Haynes, Political Behavior). Our research measured the impact of national party division on the national popular vote in the general election. We also measured the impact of a divisive state primary on the general election results in that state. We found that, relative to what would otherwise be expected, the impact of a divisive state primary was limited but the impact of the national party division was potentially much larger.

Our research indicated that the impact of a divisive state primary is rarely more than 1% in the general election in that state. Applying the results of this research to the 2016 primaries we found that the primaries in only a few states indicated an advantage to either party of more than 1%. For example, we found that in South Carolina and Texas, where Clinton did quite well in the primaries and Trump did poorly, the expected general election advantage to Clinton was just a shade over 1%. Similarly in West Virginia and Washington state, where Clinton did poorly but Trump did well, the expected advantage to Trump was about 1.2%.

Looking at the potential swing states we found that none of them exceeded a 1% advantage to either candidate. (We were not able to estimate the impact in Colorado.) Our analysis indicates that Clinton would receive an advantage of between .50 and .88% in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Georgia, but less than that in the other swing states. The analysis indicates an advantage for Trump in none of the swing states. This may be partially because Clinton had only one opponent throughout the campaign, while Trump had multiple opponents throughout most of the campaign; thus in most states Clinton's share of the Democratic primary vote was greater than Trump's share of the Republican primary vote. 

Because national party division is difficult to measure, we estimated its impact in two different ways. We used aggregate popular vote (1972-2012) as one measure. Similar to our measure of divided state primaries, we compared the proportion of the national aggregate popular vote for Clinton in the Democratic primaries to the aggregate popular vote for Trump in the Republican primaries.

Clinton received the majority (55.2%) of the aggregate Democratic primary vote, while Trump received only a plurality (45.0%) of the Republican primary vote. In other words, among primary voters there was a larger pool of Republican voters who supported candidates other than Trump than the pool of Democratic voters who supported a candidate other than Clinton. Using this measure of national party division, we estimate that Clinton will receive 2.4% more of the national popular vote than would otherwise be expected in the general election.

We also estimated the impact of national party division using an alternative measure, comparing the percent of delegates supporting the two nominees at their conventions (1948-2012). Contrary to the popular vote measure, the convention vote measure indicates that in 2016 the Republican party is more united. Trump received a larger majority (69.8%) of delegate votes at his convention than Clinton did in hers (59.7%). This suggests that Trump will receive 1.2% more of the general election vote than would otherwise be expected.

Part of the explanation for the difference may be the fact that Democratic rules allocate delegates proportionately, while Republican rules usually allocate disproportionally more delegates to the winner of the primary. Clinton received 55.2% of the aggregate popular vote and 59.7% of the convention vote. (The additional votes for Clinton were largely because of super-delegates.) Trump, on the other hand, received only 45.0% of the aggregate popular vote but received 69.8% of the delegate vote at the convention. Again, this is likely because of the “winner-take-more” rules in the Republican party.

The convention vote measure is more “conservative” in the sense that it almost always indicates a smaller advantage to the more unified party than the aggregate popular vote measure does. From 1972 to 2012, the aggregate popular vote has indicated an advantage greater than 6% for one party or the other in 5 of the 11 elections; the convention vote measure has not indicated an advantage of that magnitude in any election during that time period.

Comparing the two measures to subjective observations, the convention vote measure seems to be a better fit. For example, in 2004 President Bush ran unopposed while Senator Kerry won all but three primaries; the convention measure indicates a small advantage for Bush while the popular vote measure indicates a large advantage. Both estimates for 2016 are relatively small compared to other elections since 1972. This is not surprising since both parties are somewhat divided. (Compare, for example, the 1972 and 1984 elections, when the Republicans were very united while the Democrats were severely divided.) To summarize, our research suggests that the impact of national party division will be modest (though it is unclear which party would benefit more), and a small advantage to Clinton in several swing states.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Impact of Divided National Parties on Presidential Elections

The following is a guest post from Paul-Henri Gurian, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia.

University of Georgia Political Science Professors Paul-Henri Gurian and Audrey Haynes, together with Drs. Nathan Burroughs, Lonna Atkeson and Damon Cann, have published a study that measures the impact of national party division on presidential elections. Their results are relevant to the current party divisions, especially within the Republican party. 

History shows that when one party is divided and the other party is united, the divided party almost always loses the presidential election. Consider, for example, the elections from 1964 through 1984; in each case the divided party lost. The study measures party division during the primaries and indicates how much the more divided party loses in the general election. 

The study shows that both national party division and divisive state primaries have significant influence on general election outcomes. But national party division has a greater and more widespread impact on the national results. A divisive state primary can have a small negative impact on that one state, but national party division can have large negative impact on the national vote. A divisive state primary rarely leads to more than a 1-2% decrease in the general election in that state. For example, Hillary Clinton received 71% of the Democratic vote in the Georgia primary while Donald Trump received 39% of the Republican vote. If nominated, Trump would lose almost 1% in the state of Georgia in the general election.

In comparison, national party division often leads to decreases of more than 3% nation-wide. For example, as of March 12, Trump has received 36.1% of the total national Republican primary vote while Clinton has received 60.0% of the Democratic vote. If these proportions remain steady for the remainder of the nomination campaign (and if these two candidates win the nominations), then Trump would lose 5.7% of the vote in the general election (compared to what he would otherwise be expected to receive). In a close election (such as 2000, 2004, 2012), 5-6% could change the outcome in terms of which party wins the presidency. 

The results of this study provide analysts with a way to anticipate the impact of each primary and, more importantly, the impact of the total primary vote on the general election results. Subtracting the percent of the Republican nominee’s total popular vote from that of the Democratic nominee and multiplying that by 0.237 indicates how much the Republican nominee is likely to lose in the November election (compared to what would otherwise be expected). The 5.7% figure calculated through March 12 can be updated as additional states hold their primaries. (The same can be done for individual state primaries by multiplying by 0.026.)  

The full study, “National Party Division and Divisive State Primaries in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1948-2012,” published by Political Behavior, is available online now ( Contact Dr. Gurian at for further information, questions or clarification.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Democratic Ulterior Motives for 2012 and Frontloading

Yesterday, Jack put a bee in my bonnet by bringing up the specter of Democratic ulterior motives looming over the presidential primary scheduling for 2012. And as all good comments usually do, that got me thinking about the state legislative parties working to sabotage the nomination process for the alternate party. Just to be clear, I don't think this is necessarily happening. I don't think that Republicans could have foreseen what was going to happen with the DNC's sanction upgrade (fully stripping the state of its Democratic convention delegates) prior to the 2008 primaries or that the Democratic nomination would stretch out as far as it did. In any event the votes in both the Florida House and Senate were nearly unanimous; bringing in most of the Democrats in the process. If the Republicans in the Florida General Assembly were acting in ill will, then the Democrats took the bait. And I don't think that is the case any more than I think State Rep. Kevin Rader is proposing a reversion of the primary date in Florida to March to hurt the GOP in 2012. I just think he wants a primary that is in compliance with DNC rules (...if they were to remain the same for the next cycle or two).

But as long as we're talking ulterior motives, how about this one? The goal isn't necessarily to throw the 2012 GOP process into chaos, but to decrease the opportunity for on-the-ground organizing. In other words, keep the GOP away from an early and competitive, in this case, Florida primary and cause them to miss out on the organizational positives they would have gained. I'm going to go ahead and assume that if the primary rules are unchanged and the schedule remains similarly static, save Florida, the Republican nomination will have been decided well before the second week in March when Florida would hold its primary. Basically the, should Florida prove competitive in the subsequent general election campaign, then, the GOP's nominee will have lost out on some of that early organizational activity.

If 2008 taught us anything its that intra-party divisiveness has several levels. Jimmy Carter/Ted Kennedy divisiveness equals party paralysis while Obama/Clinton divisiveness leads to potential organization-building that will prove useful in the general election. [Now, it could also be that Barack Obama caught lightning in a bottle and that Hillary Clinton's endorsement really helped, but humor me, will you?] Of course, an additional layer in this is competition. Competition in 2008 is alright when both parties have contested nominations, but in 2012 it may not be welcomed in the Republican nomination battle. That type of competition builds interest in the race from state to state, but that could be offset to some extent by the need for the GOP to quickly settle in on an opponent for Obama. Would competition have helped the Democrats in 2004? [Actually, don't answer that. It could be that the Swift Boat stuff could have come out earlier, a la Jeremiah Wright, and either sunk John Kerry or helped his team develop a better strategy for dealing with it.] Still, the DNC allowed for February contests in 2004 precisely so that the party could unify quickly behind a nominee and begin the fight against George W. Bush. Would the RNC repeat this strategy or play with fire and attempt to mimic the competition and organization route the Democrats took in 2008? The former has failed, and the latter has the potential to blow up in their faces if the competition turns nasty.

But let's revisit this organization hypothesis because I don't think it can be understated. Democrats certainly could act in a way as to prevent primary period organization on the part of the Republicans, but it is probably more likely that we see Republican efforts to recreate what the Democrats had in 2008. This doesn't have to be some full-blown effort to resituate all the states on the calendar. It could simply be a few perceived November battlegrounds that get moved to earlier dates. This may also explain why Republicans in North Carolina and Indiana are pushing for earlier contests in 2012.

Let's think about this in terms of states those two states. Here are two states where Obama benefited because the Democratic nomination stretched into and through May. Obama was able to begin building the foundation in those states in a way he perhaps couldn't have minus the competition he had from Hillary Clinton. If Obama was the nominee at that point, Obama-McCain may not have energized voters in the same way that Obama-Clinton did. And in any event, the spotlight wouldn't have been that brightly shone on either state at that point.

If Indiana and North Carolina are shifted to earlier dates in 2012, as Republicans in each state are pushing for to varying degrees, that could provide the eventual nominee with some very much needed early organization in two of 2008's closest states*. So this isn't so much a matter of Democratic ulterior motives as it is about Republican motives in terms of the proper balance to create for 2012. [Am I saying the post title was misleading? No, of course not.]

*Of course if both Indiana and North Carolina move to Super Tuesday in February, then the quality of organzation is likely to suffer because candidate resources will be stretched so thin across so many states. Each would have to tamp down on the level of competition from other states.

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Florida in 2012: Primary on the Move?

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reform: First Up? The Texas Primary-Caucus System

Sure the election just ended but why not strike while the iron is hot, right? Well, that's what Texas Democrats are doing. After the Lone Star state's primary handed Hillary Clinton an important comeback victory on March 4 to go with the New York senator's wins in Ohio and Rhode Island, the caucus portion of Texas' delegate selection process favored Obama. And even though the caucus accounted for roughly one-third of the delegates, Obama's edge in that side of the contest gave him enough of a delegate lead to take the state overall.

But some people didn't like that and the Texas Democratic Party is reviewing the process, which on Friday meant the party hearing from members about the primary-caucus system. Here's a report from an Austin-area TV station:

The thing that gets me (Well, other than the claim that the legislature is required to make a change to the system.*) is that it really won't matter for Texas Democrats in 2012. Unless the Obama administration is a complete failure, there will not be a contested primary on the Democratic side in any state, much less Texas. But as I said when I led this post off, why not strike while the iron is hot? If the party, or any of its members, wait to change the way delegates are allocated in the Democratic nomination races in the election years ahead, it's best to do it when there is some controversy to help grease the wheels. This particular delegate allocation system does seem like a relic of the transition from a primary to a caucus in Texas, but unlike most other states that have switched, Texas has let this play out for almost 30 years by not dropping the caucus altogether. I would assume that most of that is due to the fact that other than in 1988, Texas just wasn't a big player in deciding either nomination. And what that meant was that some of the rules that are only now being scrutinized weren't being looked at at all.

For more on the Texas system, have a look back at our run through Texas during the 2008 cycle.

*The claim on both the report and the blog post I got this news from (h/t, by the way to Change the Caucus) that a change to the system requires action on the part of the Texas state legislature is news to me. Unless there is a new rule that I haven't been let in on, it is up to the state party, not the state legislature to decide the method by which delegates are allocated. In most primary states the state parties typically go along with the state-funded contest -- the one put in place by the state government -- and this isn't really an issue with the caucus. But that doesn't match up with the reporting on this. The Republicans in Texas, for instance, don't have a caucus like the Democrats do, just the primary. If the GOP in the state wanted to add one they wouldn't need approval from the state legislature unless that state was paying the bill. They aren't. The nightcap caucus is something the Democratic Party pays for and is thus in no way beholden to the Texas state legislature in any way.

Thanks to Anon4:25 for pointing out a necessary clarification to this post in the comments section below. I certainly painted this caucus issue in black and white terms but didn't account for the gray area in between. In the scenario posited by Anon., it isn't the caucus that's at stake, but rather the proportion of delegates that that portion of the process receives.

And that raises a good question for the comments section: What is a good or proper balance between the primary and caucus if the caucus is kept?

In 2008, the caucus delegates made up just over one-third of the total "pledged" delegates. How far should that be dropped? A quarter? A tenth? Another way or asking this is to ask whether the impact of the caucus is diminished to the point that the party-building and local organizing that CBSmith mentions isn't possible because there isn't a significant enough motivation to participate? Or is that what the state party wants?

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Negative Nellie in Pennsylvania

Maybe you noticed over the weekend that the campaigning in Pennsylvania got ugly. Maybe. Or maybe onlookers and Pennsylvanians alike made up their minds and spent a nice spring weekend outside trying to avoid the onslaught and any April surprises. As we inch closer to the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow several ideas are floating around in my head.

1) Why the negativity now from Obama?
In a season where voters have not taken to negative campaigning very well (Romney's out and Clinton's use of negativity before and after South Carolina seemed to aid, at least in part, Obama's post-Super Tuesday winning streak), it is an odd choice for the typically adept Obama campaign to opt for a seemingly more negative approach in the lead up to the latest "most crucial contest." Either the Obama camp is desperate for a win in Pennsylvania that would put an end to this race or they're hoping that Clinton receives the last minute blame attribution for the negativity (which could lead to an Obama win).

2) Does record registration in the Keystone state bode well for Obama?
That's what Politico's Jeanne Cunnings (via The Caucus) concludes. I've been burned on this sort of thing before; suggesting that high turnout in New Hampshire would mean a win for Obama. We can all see how that one turned out. I don't disagree with the conclusion but I do think that an Obama win may not be the result of a spike in registration.

3) What if Obama's trip to Negativeland is simply a ploy?
A calculated move? In politics? I shudder to think. But seriously, what if this is nothing but a clever ploy on the part of the Obama camp to play on Democrats' worst fears: a divisive primary that ruins their chances of winning in November? If voters are reminded of that are they more or less likely to want to put an end to the race? If Clinton gets that blame attribution, then Pennsylvanians could prove the decisive electorate in this race.

4) Will Pennsylvanians take the bait?
And could I cast that in any more negative a way? I don't know, but I have an idea. If you are in the voting booth and this negativity is affecting your decision, who loses the most points. Clinton has gone negative already, so even more negativity just builds on that perception. Obama has avoided negativity, or so the story goes, so any negativity from his campaign either really breaks from the past tenor of his campaign or is just an aberration.

The big questions then are who gets the blame for the recent rash of negativity and are Pennsylvanians tired (scared) enough of the potential for divisiveness to want to end the nomination race? The answers will decide who wins tomorrow and how quickly this thing may be wrapped up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Clinton End Game Strategy

If you haven't caught this story yet, be sure and pop over to The New York Times and check out the end game scenario from the Clinton camp. You have got to love a discussion of primary states in a general election (almost electoral vote) context:
"Campaign advisers said they believed Kentucky and West Virginia could ultimately be in play."

Friday, February 29, 2008

Divisive Primaries: 2008 vs. The Past

Last night's divisive primaries post and subsequent comments on The Monkey Cage (TMC) got me thinking about divisive primaries a bit more. And I'm wondering if what we call divisive primaries within political science is a blanket term that we use to describe several different but interconnected concepts. There are several layers to this:

Could it be that it is not the divisive primaries at all but the ability/inability to overcome them in a reasonable amount of time that has an effect on general election vote shares? Well, what does "reasonable amount of time" mean? It's a moving target. In 1980, that meant before the convention was over. Reagan and Bush joined forces on one side after a competitive primary fight, while Carter and Kennedy hardly came across as buddies at the Democratic convention. The result: the GOP ticket moved into general election mode while the Democrats continued to put the pieces together internally. [Paul Gurian gets a tip of the cap for placing this notion in my head. He may even be able to bolster the anecdote a bit if he reads this. He's also done some work in this area.] In other words, divisiveness on the Democratic side gave the Republican party a head start. In 2008, the worry for the Democrats is that the Obama/Clinton battle will cause a real rift in the party that won't be able to be healed enough before the election. Which brings us to...

Time, time, time.
The timing is a lot different now than it was thirty years ago. The prolonged primary seasons of the past gave way, for all intents and purposes, to the Super Tuesday model of presidential nomination by 1988 for the Republicans and 1992 for the Democrats. The time between Iowa and Super Tuesday shrunk during that interim, preventing insurgencies from being mounted effectively. If a challenge cannot gain steam then the likelihood of a divisive series of primaries developing decreases. [What's this, a benefit of frontloading? The drawback, of course, is that voters do not have the opportunity to fully vet the frontrunner/nominee, leaving them to suffer from what has been dubbed "buyer's remorse."]

But there's a tipping point here that fits in with this timing issue. At what point does competitiveness morph into divisiveness? This where the 2008 example could (when the history book is written on it) prove illustrative. Jacob Sohlberg, in the comments section over at TMC, alludes to this:
"The fighting candidates and their party get most of the media attention while the real competitor (say McCain) gets little. This is under the (strong) assumption that all news are good news."
And that's the thing: as long as the news is good. At what point does the positive competitiveness of the race for delegates turn into the negative, party-splitting divisiveness? Should Clinton do well in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, then 2008 may have reached that point for the Democrats. But in the Super Tuesday era (1988/1992-2004), no challenger has been afforded such an opportunity. That era was marked by frontrunners who were able to snuff out insurgencies before competitiveness turned to divisiveness. [And just for the record, this is not an obituary for the Super Tuesday era, as I call it. 2008 may prove to be an anomaly and not a system changing election. Let's revisit this in four years and see.] Mondale quelled Gary Hart before a movement started (No, this isn't within the era I defined above but it is a good example.). George W. Bush kept McCain at bay. And Kerry silenced John Edwards. Competitiveness yielded to reality in all three cases before divisiveness took hold or could attempt to take hold.

What we see then is that the ability to stop competitiveness (My, doesn't that sound democratic. This is, of course, from the frontrunner's and national party's perspectives.) in its tracks is important. The GOP's unwritten strategy of going with an "heir apparent" as its nominee makes sense in this context. It helps avoid divisiveness. The onus is then on the Democratic party to steer clear of protracted nomination battles in their overall more competitive nomination process. Should competitiveness turn to divisiveness, then healing the divisions in a timely fashion (at least in relation to the opposing party) becomes the next obstacle.