For our purposes, we'll use electoral votes as a proxy for size. Indiana has eleven electoral votes and fortunately, over the last several presidential election cycles there have been several similarly sized states that have made significant moves from one cycle to the next.
|State Attention Changes (Delegates)|
|March 7, 2000||February 3, 2004||-0.37%|
|March 14, 2000||February 10, 2004||+1.32%|
|April 4, 2000||February 17, 2004||+2.39%|
[NOTE: I should probably make at least some mention of the attention variable here. If you've had a chance to look at the Ridout and Rottinghaus paper cited above, the data they use to operationalize the concept is the number of candidate visits to and the number of ads run in a particular state. In the past I have used candidate spending and media coverage (a measure borrowed from Gurian and Haynes 1993) as a measure of this concept, but that series of measures has been compromised by both a change in what the FEC required candidates to file and by the proliferation of candidates opting out of the matching funds system.
As was my practice with the earlier set of data, I take the ads and visits data and convert it to percentages. Yes, that prevents us from saying, "Indiana would have gotten X more visits/ads had it moved its presidential primary Y number of of days/weeks forward." However, I find it powerful to look at this in terms of the share of attention each state got. "Could Indiana have increased its piece of the pie if it had been earlier?" If each state were created and treated equally then, we would expect them to each get about 2% of the total amount of attention (100%/50 states = 2% for each state). States, though, are not equal. Specifically, they are not equal in terms of size. A state like California, then, would be expected to net just more than ten percent of the total amount of candidate attention, while South Dakota would be expected to receive approximately one half of one percent. Indiana, in this case, is essentially right on average, expected to garner a hair more than 2%. From this, we can get a sense of whether a state has out- or under-performed based on what its expected share of the total amount of attention is.]
What, then, did Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin -- three states similar in size to Indiana -- gain from moving their presidential primaries to earlier dates between 2000 and 2004? In Missouri's case, not much. The Show-Me state actually lost ground, having gone from being lost in the Super Tuesday shuffle in 2000 to being stuck behind South Carolina and Arizona in 2004. The only reason I can think of to explain this is that the prevailing sentiment must have been that Missouri was going to be close in the general election anyway and that it was more important for the candidates to show strength in the South (in the Democrats' case) even if South Carolina was a done deal for November. First in the South status matters more than general election prospects, then.
While the Missouri case is somewhat puzzling, Tennessee and Wisconsin basically performed in the same way. Both went from essentially no attention in 2000 (both fell after Super Tuesday that year) to their expected levels of attention (give or take a few one-hundredths of a perentage point). What helped both in that regard was that both moved from inconsequential calendar positions to pre-Super Tuesday spots where they were not sharing the spotlight at all or with just one other state (Tennessee and Virginia went on the same date.). Overall though, this is a surprising finding (limited in scope though these cases may be). At least in terms of states around this size, we're talking about basically claiming a level of attention that should reasonably be expected and not out-performing that expectation. Basically, size may matter, but it is probably far less significant than how crowded the position to which a state of this size is moving.
Obviously size isn't all that matters, in fact across the two studies cited above, it has no real impact. But what are other means by which we can draw similarities between Indiana and other states? One thing that crossed my mind was that Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com put together a nice chart of State Similarity Scores during the summer months of the 2008 campaign. [Sadly, the chart is no longer up in the post and I've tried it with three different browers. However, due to the magic of the internet, I was able to unearth the chart. Safari will allow you to right click the icon that is in the place of the image and save the original. I'm assuming that the reason it has disappeared is because the 1 GB Blogger allowance for images has been exceeded. But I could be wrong. Anyway, I'll reproduce the chart here, but only with the understanding that this is NOT my work. I am merely borrowing it for the purposes of this analysis.] Basically, Silver attempted to discover the percentage of similarity between states based on 19 dimensions.
State Similarity Scores
[Chart via FiveThirtyEight.com. Click image to enlarge and here to go to the original post there.]
Across those 19 dimensions, Indiana has the most in common with neighbor Ohio, Kansas and North Carolina. Kansas is a caucus state (with the exception of 1992) which makes it more difficult to equate with other primary states and North Carolina has been on the same date as Indiana for all but two cycles in the post-reform era (1976 and 1988). The Tarheel state got more than its expected share of attention in 1976 and matched its expectation in 1988. North Carolina is slightly larger than Indiana and serves as a nice baseline for comparison. Again, we see that sharing the spotlight on a particular date makes a difference (on its face at least). North Carolina had its late March date in 1976 all to itself (and was consequential in the GOP nomination race) but was part of the larger Southern Super Tuesday in 1988, a year when the state did better in terms of receiving attention than in the past, but not as good as it would have been had all the other Southern states not gone simultaneously.
The state that shares the most in common with Indiana, though, is Ohio. And the Buckeye state certainly offers a cautionary tale when it comes to the impact of delegate-richness on the level of attention a state receives. Despite being a bellwether during the general election, Ohio has consistently come in under its expected level of attention. Much of that has to do with the state having a presidential primary mired in either May or June for much of the post-reform era. When the state jumped to March in 1996 and ended up coinciding with the Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin primaries, Ohio did gain attention from the candidates, but far less than would be expected for a state of its size and importance.* When Ohio moved again in 2000 (to Super Tuesday), the state actually lost ground. Again, the number of other states on the same date seems to matter.
Just looking through the data (without modeling and then predicting anything), then, size doesn't seem to matter that much. On top of that, if Indiana were smart, they would wait until the last possible moment in 2011 to decide on a date for its 2012 presidential primary (if they choose to go ahead with the move). In other words, the legislators in the Hooiser state would be wise to see where everyone else (or most everyone else) is going and then decide. The problems there, though, are twofold. The earliest allowed date, if party rules remain virtually unchanged, is going to be the first Tuesday in February, and as we've seen, it is going to be crowded. In other words, attention gains would be limited (The real gain would be in insuring that the state's voters have a say in who the party or parties' nominee(s) are going to be.). Relatedly, state legislators would also have to weigh the defiance option. If they go the Florida/Michigan route, Indiana risks losing delegates to the convention, but possibly gains much more attention in the process (especially if the "lose half their delegates" penalty on the GOP side remains the same). But the latter problem is more a problem for the national parties than it is for the states. The penalty just isn't strong enough to prevent states from defying party rules.
*This is even more curious since Ohio had aligned its primary with three other states in the region and those states had the date all to themselves. What didn't help was the fact that Dole's sweep through the remnants of the Southern Super Tuesday the week before forced his main rival, Steve Forbes, from the race, virtually assuring the senator of the GOP nomination
Indiana and 2012
Democratic Ulterior Motives for 2012 and Frontloading
Florida in 2012: Primary on the Move?