Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Impact of 2010 State Governmental Elections on Frontloading: Part Two

Yesterday's post on the prevalence of unified government in state governments following the 2010 elections set the stage for a further examination of the influence that will have on the likelihood of proposed bills that may shift the dates on which presidential primaries and caucuses will be held. Now, there are a fair number of factors that come into play in the frontloading decision-making calculus of any state legislature (or ultimately the state government). For the time being, FHQ will focus on a handful of them.

First, presidential incumbency matters. I found as much in my research [pdf]. Over the 1976-2008 period, those cycles without an incumbent president on the ballot were three times less likely to witness widespread primary movement than in those cycles where both parties had contested nominations. 2012 will be one of those cycles with an incumbent president on the ballot.

What that tells us is that there is potentially a partisan element to all of this. As Philip Klinkner (1994) found in his book on out party committee activity, those parties currently out of the White House are more likely to tinker with their rules -- as a means of shuffling the deck and potentially increasing their likelihood of success -- than those that occupy the White House. In other words, in this cycle we would expect to see the Republicans being less content with the status quo and thus more likely to alter their rules in some fashion. While the Republican Party did allow rules changes (or the exploration of that possibility) outside of the national convention for the first -- a process that led to the adoption of rules requiring states to proportionally allocate delegates in the event a contest is held prior to April -- that effort is not really the point for our purposes here. Instead, we are looking at the secondary actors here: the state governments. To what level are the states willing to, within those rules, make changes to their election laws to impact their influence over the nomination process? When it comes to frontloading, that is the important question to ask. All things equal, the expectation would be that Republican-controlled governments would be more likely frontload than Democratic-controlled state governments.

2012 is a weird cycle, though. After having allowed February primaries, both national parties are now seeking to scale things back in 2012 and are mandating March or later primary and caucus dates for non-exempt states. For the first time, then, the parties are attempting to force states to backload as opposed to allowing them to frontload to a certain point in the past.

That leaves those 18 states currently in violation (see map below) of the national parties' delegate selection rules firmly within the crosshairs. Each has to move back to a later, compliant date or they face the delegation-reducing sanctions both parties are employing. [For the time being, I'll shunt my thoughts on the effectiveness of those sanctions to the side.]

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Those 18 states are either the states most likely to move into compliance or the most likely to thumb their noses at the national party rules in an attempt to influence the nominations. And that brings us full circle. Democratic-controlled state governments (of those 18 states) would tend to fall into the former group while Republican-controlled state governments would be more likely to tempt fate and stick it out despite the looming spectre of sanctions. Two Democratic-controlled states (Arkansas and Illinois) in the last legislative session moved to later dates and a third, California (a newly unified Democratic state government), has a proposal to move its primary back to a later date on the 2012 presidential primary calendar.

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You can begin to see the possible impact here as highlighted by the map above (especially when combined with the partisan maps from part one). The unified state governments would hypothetically be more likely to see some action if they were under Democratic control than if they were under Republican control (seeking greater influence over the nomination) or in the midst of divided control (unable to move into compliance with either national party's delegate selection rules). In other words, there is not only a line between unified and divided state governments, but between states with unified Democratic control and unified Republican control. States like California are more likely to move back, but are unified Republican states like Florida or Georgia more or less likely to move back than states like New York or Missouri with divided government? That will be something for those of us watching to keep our eye on.

The problem with focusing on the states in violation of the national party rules is that it completely disregards states -- particularly unified states -- that are currently compliant but may move to an earlier date valuing influence over the potential costs to their national delegations. Here's where that Texas bill comes into the picture.

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There are obviously states with unified control that may opt to move into violation of the national parties as well. But those states are much more likely to be Republican-controlled than otherwise. Pennsylvania, a state long divided between the parties and incidentally enough unable to move out of April during the post-reform period, may be worth watching along with Texas since both are Republican-controlled.

The point to take home is that while there may be some states that stick it out with primary dates in violation of the national party rules, there will also be far less movement forward than in the past. There will be movement backward, but much of that will likely depend on the presence of unified government in the state and which party is in control.

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Presidential Primary Bills Before State Legislatures

Now that California has joined Texas among the ranks of states with primary-shifting bills before its state legislature, FHQ is going to add a gadget in the left sidebar (directly under primary calendar) that will allow you to track the status of those bills.

Just as a refresher:
1) The California bill would move the presidential primary from the first Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June.
2) The Texas bill is a true frontloading bill. The proposal there calls for the Lone Star state's primary to be moved from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February.

Stay tuned on the front page for updates and to the sidebar for the status of the bills.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

California Bill Introduced to Move Presidential Primary Back to June

California State Assemblymember, Paul Fong (D-Mountain View) introduced a bill (AB 80) yesterday which would shift the state's presidential primary in 2012 and in future presidential cycles from the first Tuesday in February back to June. Details are scant at this point (as you might have been able to tell from the bill link above), but there are few things that can be said of this despite not having the text of the bill at which to look.

First of all, California did this during the 2008 cycle as well. In September 2004, then-Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that moved the Golden state's primary from its March position back to June. Now, keep in mind that California has always been one the states that has traditionally held both its presidential primary and its primaries for state and local offices at the same time. Record low turnout in both 2002 and 2004 served as the impetus for the move. However, in 2007, when states began moving and clustering their primaries and caucuses for 2008 in February, California followed suit (see California section). But this time the state assembly decoupled the presidential primary from the primaries for state and local offices. This didn't come cheap. The early cost estimates to create the all-new, separate presidential primary placed that number at $90 million.

And that brings us to the second point. With such a high price tag and with California in poor shape economically, this current move by the assembly to "recouple" the two sets of primaries seems like a no-brainer. Of course, passing this bill would also mean that California's voice would likely go unheard at the tail end of the nomination process, a place the state's primary has not been since the 1992 cycle. This could be a point of debate once this bill is in committee (Fong is the chair of the Assembly Elections Committee.). That could be as early as February 3.

Given our post earlier today, none of the above says anything about the partisanship in the state legislature in California. It was among the states that shifted from divided to unified government with Jerry Brown's election as governor. It was also one of the few states that moved toward the Democrats in that regard. With an uncontested nomination, Democratic-controlled states may be more likely to bring their primary scheduling into compliance with national party rules because of that than their Republican-controlled counterparts in other states. We shall see. We'll have more on this point in tomorrow's post. That said, California moving back is a big deal. It is currently one of the 18 states with elections laws on the books that schedule the presidential primary in February and thus in violation of national party rules on delegate selection.

[h/t Ballot Access News for the link.]

UPDATE: Here is the text of AB 80. As expected the bill combines all sets of primaries on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June and would move the presidential primary to that position from the first Tuesday in February.

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The Impact of 2010 State Governmental Elections on Frontloading: Part One

On Monday, FHQ posted a chronological list of the start dates for all 50 state legislative sessions. Now, from that calendar several factors, as discussed there, could be gleaned that could impact the evolution of the 2012 presidential primary calendar. However, it was only intended as the opening of an incremental assessment of the state of play in the calendar maneuvering that will take place throughout 2011. State legislatures are very much at the nexus of this decision in a majority of states -- those with primaries. As such the partisan composition of those state legislatures is an important point of departure.

The Republican wave that swept over the 111th Congress grabbed a majority of the headlines as did some of the wins the party saw in gubernatorial races. Yet, those GOP advances stretched down-ballot to state legislatures as well. Nationwide that translated into a gain of more than 675 seats across all state legislatures according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Before I get too far into this first step look into the post-2010 partisan composition of state legislatures, or more to the point, whether there is unified or divided government on the state level, I should note that this is but one of many factors that plays a role in determining if a state ultimately opts to shift the date on which its presidential primary is held. In the models I ran in my dissertation research [pdf], I repeatedly found that structural factors had a greater influence a state's propensity to frontload in the 1976-2008 period than what I deemed political factors. In other words, matters such as whether a state held its presidential primary concurrently with its primaries for state and local offices was of greater import than divided government. It should be noted that another political factor, the presence of an incumbent president running for reelection, had a larger impact than either a divided state government (legislature and governor) or a divided legislature. The theory behind all of this is that rationally acting decision makers would utilize a cost/benefit analysis when deciding whether to frontload their primary. Those state-level decision makers with less structural, political, economic and cultural impediments standing in the way of the decision were found to be more likely to have shifted their primary (or caucus) over the period mentioned above.

While inter-chamber partisan division within a legislature would hypothetically serve as a deterrent to frontloading, it was never the statistically significant factor that inter-branch partisan division (between the executive and legislative branches) consistently proved to be.

That said, what impact did the 2010 Republican wave have on the presence of unified or divided government? First, it is instructive to examine the executive and legislative chamber flips in partisan control during the 2010 elections.

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Understandably, this is a map that trends red, but only shows two instances (Maine and Wisconsin) where the Republican Party gained control of the executive branch and both the upper and lower chambers of the legislature. Overall, the map does not tell us much more than the map the National Conference of State Legislatures provides other than the fact that it adds gubernatorial gains to the equation. But let's add in a map that shows the prevalence of unified government and then create a hybrid of the two that demonstrates not only the presence of Republican-controlled unified government, but the gains made on that front during 2010.

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Again, this second map shows us the extent to which unified government extended following the 2010 elections. On the surface, the midterms proved to be a boon to Republican fortunes nearly nationwide. It would, theoretically, have an impact not only on frontloading but on redistricting as well. Unified Republican-control on the state level translates into fewer hurdles between a party making congressional seat gains through redistricting or making an advantageous move of a primary ahead of a presidential nomination cycle that will only see a competitive Republican race.

But what was the impact of 2010?

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Well, the state that already had unified government prior to 2010 are shaded in either dark red or blue. The gains in unified control by either party are in the lighter shades. If we were a truly enterprising blog, FHQ would go ahead an layer in the new electoral college map as a means of discerning the states where unified control was established and where redistricting will have to take place. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania are the big ones on that front and sadly for the Democratic Party, California is neither redistricted by its state legislature nor did it gain any seats in the latest reapportionment. Redistricting aside, however, this series of maps does set the stage for an examination of how the partisan shifts in control at the state level will potentially impact the frontloading process during the 2011 state legislative sessions.

With so many states now under unified Republican control and with the Republican nomination being the only contested race, the potential exists for quite a lot of primary movement. But FHQ will delve into that tomorrow with a wider discussion of other factors that could influence state legislative decision making in terms of presidential primary timing.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Headline Writers Need to Be Stopped

Earlier FHQ linked to an article from the Columbus Dispatch that correctly identified the news in its article on the possibility of a later 2012 presidential primary in Ohio. In fact, the headline was good enough in our opinion to repeat here.

That story has since been picked up in part by the Associated Press and has morphed from the incoming secretary of state pointing out a potential timing issue between the redistricting process and the presidential primary into said secretary of state contemplating moving the presidential primary himself.


I'm no expert -- well, I suppose I am -- but the last time I checked, in Ohio, as in many other states, the state legislature is responsible for moving the date on which the state's primary is held. And that move has to be signed off on by the governor, not the secretary of state. New Hampshire is the only state where the secretary of state plays a direct role in the scheduling of presidential primaries. The state legislature in the Granite state ceded that power in 1976 in an effort to assure the state maximum flexibility in maintaining its first in the nation primary. Now this isn't to suggest that secretaries of state, under which typically resides a state board of elections, has no role to play in this process. However, that role is rarely anything other than an advisory role. And that seems to be the case in Ohio. The state legislature will be the entity to act on this if it cannot quickly draw the congressional district lines. [Let's keep in mind that Ohio is now under unified Republican control following the 2010 elections.]

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"Slow redistricting could delay Ohio's presidential primary"

"Ohio's 2012 presidential primary election might have to be moved to later in the year if state lawmakers are slow to draw new congressional districts this year, incoming Secretary of State Jon Husted said yesterday."
There is always a domino effect. Ohio state law requires petitions for candidacy to be filed at least 90 days in advance of the March 6, 2012 primary (December 7, 2011), but both congressional and state legislative districts will have to have been drawn by then so candidates -- both incumbents and challengers -- know where they are running. This obviously puts a bit of pressure on state and local boards of elections to solidify the field of candidates and then print (or prepare electronic) ballots for the primary.

It remains to be seen if this news will actually filter down to members of the state legislature, some of whom may opt to introduce a bill that shifts the date on which the presidential primary (and those for other offices as well) is held. Though it didn't go anywhere, a group of Democratic state senators proposed a bill that would have moved the Ohio primary into January for the 2008 cycle. That would have been in violation of both national parties' delegate selection rules (And wouldn't it have been fun to tack Ohio onto the Florida/Michigan mess?). Of course, that didn't stop the bill's introduction.

File this one away and be on the lookout for other similar situations in other states where reapportionment has forced district redraws.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

A View of the 2008 Presidential Election Results Through the Lens of the Electoral College Spectrum

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Yesterday, FHQ promised that it would be back today with a look at the impact the reapportionment changes would have had on the 2008 election. More importantly, though, it is instructive to dust off the Electoral College Spectrum and begin to visualize how the seat/electoral college vote shifts will impact the 2012 presidential election. The map above accomplishes the former without much explanation -- Obama would have lost six electoral votes overall in 2008 -- and below you will find the latter.

The Electoral College Spectrum*
*Follow the link for a detailed explanation on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum.
**The numbers in the parentheses refer to the number of electoral votes a candidate would have if he won all the states ranked prior to that state. If, for example, McCain won all the states up to and including Colorado (all Obama's toss up states plus Colorado), he would have 275 electoral votes. McCain's numbers are only totaled through the states he would have needed in order to get to 270. In those cases, Obama's number is on the left and McCain's is on the right in italics.

Colorado is the state where Obama crossed the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That line is referred to as the victory line.
****Nebraska allocates electoral votes based on statewide results and the results within each of its congressional districts. Nebraska's 2nd district voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Again, this graphic is helpful from the standpoint of ranking the states from most pro-Obama to most pro-GOP, but it also provides a glimpse into what each side has to do in the general election in 2012 to either maintain or win back the White House. President Obama had such a cushion in the 2008 election -- even under the newly reapportioned electoral college -- that the Democrat could lose next year all of the middle column states except the three on top and still win. In other words, the president could yield Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, among others, and still win re-election assuming that the Republican nominee is unable to advance into some of the other seemingly safer Obama states. It is hard not to see New Hampshire and Iowa -- two of the three states that flipped between the parties between the 2000 and 2004 elections -- as well as Colorado and Virginia as the major battlegrounds of the 2012 election. And in light of the announced layoffs at Organizing for America, these states are important enough that FHQ would be willing to wager that no OFA scale back will affect any of the states listed immediately above.

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Frontloading Starts with State Legislatures: The 2011 State Legislative Session Calendar

The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first, when do their sessions end and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries?

2011 State Legislative Session Calendar
Date (Open)
Date (Close)
December 1, 2010Maine*
June 15, 2011
December 6CaliforniaSeptember 9
January 3, 2011Montana
late April
January 4Kentucky
Minnesota *
North Dakota*
Rhode Island
March 22
May 23
early April
late April
late June
January 5Connecticut
New Hampshire
New York
June 8
April 29
May 30
early June
July 1
mid May
January 10Arizona
late April
March 10
mid April
late March
late April
late May
April 24
January 11Delaware
South Carolina
South Dakota
June 30
June 2
mid March
mid May
May 30
early March
January 12Colorado*
New Jersey
West Virginia
May 11
early April
February 26
mid March
January 18Alaska*
New Mexico
April 17
March 19
January 19Hawaii*mid May
January 24UtahMarch 10
January 26North Carolina
early June
February 1OregonJune 30
February 7Nevada*
June 6
May 27
March 1Alabama
mid June
March 8Florida
May 6
April 25LouisianaJune 23
*States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
**State legislatures with year-round sessions.

The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. With the schedule of state legislative sessions down, though, what impact will this have on the 2012 presidential primary calendar? As has been mentioned several times in this space, the true impact of anything dealing with the 2012 calendar will be felt first in the 18 non-exempt states with primaries currently positioned prior to March. Those are the states where some action is necessary to pull the timing of their delegate selection event within the bounds set by the two national parties' 2012 delegate selection rules.

The most interesting note is that the state legislature in Florida does not convene until March 8; the next to last state to open its session. Why is this noteworthy? Well, Florida, a state whose election codes have the 2012 presidential primary scheduled for January 31, is technically scheduled ahead of when the parties want the exempt states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- to hold their contests. To be sure, if Florida were to leave the law alone, those four states would likely move their contests to earlier dates than what the parties desire, but the end result is that Florida holds a tremendous amount of sway over what the eventual primary calendar will look like in 2012. The late state legislative start date in Florida, then, means that many states will have already missed the window to pre-file or introduce legislation to alter the section of state election laws concerning presidential primary timing; all before Florida has even opened its legislative session. Other states, like Virginia (another primary state scheduled in violation of the national party rules), will have already brought the gavel down on the 2011 state legislative session by the time Florida starts. In other words, a state could act on 2012 primary timing prior to when the true lynchpin in the process moves (or doesn't move). Now, states in that position are not without options. One way to circumvent that problem is to bring the issue up in a special session; one that is already scheduled or where that isn't the singular issue. The other is to add an amendment for moving the primary date to another piece of legislation as a means of passing it through the legislature. Though another state's actions were not the motivation, this is what happened in Georgia (see Georgia section of that post) during the 2007 session of its General Assembly. Efforts to pass a bill specifically designed to move the date on which the Peach state's presidential primary would be held in 2008 failed, but language accomplishing the same ends was inserted in another bill in the form of an amendment toward the end of the session.

An additional factor to note is that the above discussion only accounts for those states in violation of the national party rules; those states, again, that would technically require action to come into compliance. What it does not account for are those states currently in compliance with those rules that may choose to challenge and thus violate them. The bill that has been pre-filed in Texas is an example of this.

Let us also recall that the Republican nomination contest, as the likely only competitive one, will be where all of this matters most. First of all, the Republican rules governing the 2012 nomination process provide only one penalty for states that choose to violate the timing rule: one half of their delegation to the national convention. This was not enough of a penalty to prevent all those 2008 states with contests prior to February (New Hampshire and South Carolina included) from rolling the dice. Florida and others may choose influence over delegates again in 2012. Of course, some have speculated that since the Republican National Convention is in Tampa, Florida Republicans may desire having a full delegation at a convention they are hosting. For other states (and even Florida for that matter), it remains an open question.

Regardless of all of that, state legislatures will convene mostly over the next few weeks and will continue to do so throughout the first third of 2011. That is when the work to shape the 2012 presidential primary calendar will truly commence and is something we here at FHQ will be watching closely.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 2012-2020 Electoral College Map

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In view of the fact that the Census Bureau released its population numbers prior to the holidays, FHQ needs to issue a clerical change to its 2012 electoral college map; shifting from projection to reality. Not to beat a dead horse, but the take away is that the population in the purple to bluish states in the Rust Belt and northeast grew at a much slower rate (Michigan lost population) than red states in the southeast and purple to reddish states in the southwest. The seats in Congress shift accordingly. And while that appears to hypothetically swell the ranks of the GOP not only in the House but in the electoral college tally as well, that growth may be muted even in light of the gains the Republican Party made at the state legislative level in the 2010 midterm elections.

There was only a six electoral vote shift using the 2008 election results and the newly reapportioned map. Obama would have won 359-179 as opposed to 365-173. And the question remains whether Republicans at the state level will solidify through redistricting what they have in terms of current House districts or attempt to squeeze a few more seats out of the process while potentially opening the door to future electoral vulnerability in those races. We'll likely see a little bit of both strategies employed with the net effect that the GOP makes gains but not the extent that some of the doomsday scenarios that made the rounds following the 2010 "shellacking".

We'll have more tomorrow on the impact of these changes on the electoral college in 2012 and beyond, but for now the new map (especially in the sidebar for reference) will suffice.

UPDATE: Here's a look at the 2008 results using the 2012-2020 electoral college along with the electoral college spectrum and a look at the potential battleground states for 2012.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

FHQ wants to wish all out there a happy new year. From our perspective, 2011 should bring plenty to talk about from state legislatures and state parties positioning their primaries and caucuses (or failing to do so) for the 2012 presidential nomination cycle.

Here's to a bright new year!

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