Thursday, March 12, 2009

Should Indiana Frontload in 2012? (Part One)

The View from 2004

A couple of weeks ago I laid out a simple model for examining the variation in the amount of attention (candidate visits and ad buys) states receive during any given presidential primary season. I further offered that one could use the information from this model to then predict the amount of attention a state would have gotten had it been in a different, more advantageous, calendar position. Let's reproduce the list of factors hypothesized to have an effect on the amount of attention a state would garner:
  • Delegates: As I have alluded to before, size maters. California is likely to get more attention from moving than Indiana.
  • Primary or caucus?: Despite all the chatter about caucuses in 2008, primaries still get the most attention from candidates.
  • Event Scheduling: This site is pretty much predicated on the idea that in the current system, earlier is better.
  • Number of candidates: Obviously, the greater the number of candidates in the nomination race at the time of a state's contest, the more attention that state is likely to get.
  • Number of simultaneous events: A crowded field of contests on any one day translates into candidate resources stretched thin. Look no further than Arkansas on this one.
  • Number of events in the same week: The reasoning above holds true here as well. If a state has a contest on the weekend following Super Tuesday, it may receive short shrift from the candidates than if it had not been as close to so many other contests.
  • Number of nearby states on the same date: Finally, resources are hypothetically more efficiently spent if a cluster of contests in neighboring states occur simultaneously. If John McCain is already in Missouri it is much easier (and more likely) to go campaign in nearby Oklahoma or Arkansas or Tennessee prior to February 5, 2008.
Since Indiana is in the process of looking into whether they want to form a committee to look into whether they should reposition their own presidential primary, I've been using the Hoosier state as my test case. [And incidentally, SCR 28 has passed the Senate by voice vote and has been introduced and read in the House as of March 10.] The question then is, "How much more attention would Indiana receive if it held its presidential on an earlier date?"

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll define earlier as the earliest date on which a state could hold its delegate selection event without sanction from the national party. And we'll be looking at this in terms of the 2004 primary calendar (Not to brag, but it is awfully nice to be able to reference all the primary calendars back to 1976 now.). I'll add in a 2000 projection later, but it is a bit messier with both parties having contested nominations. There are a couple of additional factors to consider. For now though, I'll focus on 2004, when only the Democratic nomination was at stake. In 2004, the earliest a non-Iowa/New Hampshire state could hold its contest was a week after the New Hampshire primary, February 3. Indeed, six states moved into the brave new world of February for the 2004 cycle, the cycle when the Democratic Party initially allowed for contests that early. In other words, there was some competition on that date but not anywhere close to the level of competition for attention on that same first Tuesday in February of 2008.

If Indiana had moved from the first week in May to the first week in February for the 2004 cycle, then, what would the Hoosier state have taken home? I looked at the descriptives of this recently and found that a handful of similarly-sized states to Indiana frontloaded in 2004 and gained as a result of the move. Tennessee and Wisconsin essentially went from nothing to around the amount of attention a state of their sizes would be expected to be if all other factors were equal. The other state, Missouri, unfortunately suffered because its favorite son, Dick Gephardt, was running and the contest had been pre-emptively ceded to the Congressman by the other candidates. [Yes, Gephardt had dropped out by this point, but the amount of attention the state got was far less than it would have been if Gephardt hadn't been in the race at all. He had only dropped out a couple of weeks prior and other states on February 3 -- especially South Carolina -- were getting much more attention.] Moving into February, then, had its advantages.

The Model

Before we look into the ramifications of Indiana having been the eighth state on February 3, 2004, let's look at how the underlying model performed.

Regression Analysis of State-level Attention Shares (2004)
CoefficientIndiana Value
Explanation of Measurement
Percentage of total Democratic delegates
106/15Number of days since first contest
1Dichotomous: 0 = Caucus
1 = Primary
2/7Number of candidates vying for nomination at time of contest
0/7Number of other simultaneous events
0/7Number of other events in the same week (Wednesday-Tuesday)
0/0Percentage of neighboring states holding simultaneous events
Attention (DV)
Average percentage of candidate visits and ad buys

R2 = .47 | n = 50 | Significance: *.05 **.01 ***<.01

Looking at Indiana in particular, we're talking about a primary 106 days after the nomination race began -- well after it was over in fact -- that basically got nothing in terms of attention. Despite the fact that it is around the median for size and the fact that Indiana held the only event on its date or week, the Hoosier state primary just fell too far after the point at which the nomination had been decided to matter.

The Results

Across the board, though, what factors did matter?* I'm not terribly surprised that the percentage of delegates wasn't a significant variable. As I've said before, it just doesn't seem to matter in the context of frontloading. Timing didn't even matter, but that may have more to do with the fact that it is fairly highly correlated (>.8) with the number of candidates in the race at the time of the primary or caucus, which was a significant factor. Multicollinearity is a potential problem with the events/day and events/week variables. Obviously there is some amount of overlap between those two concepts, but the two are nearly perfectly correlated (>.9). That said, when events in a week is dropped, the simultaneous events on a date variable is still not significant. In events/day's absence, events/week remains significant. The oddity here is that with both are included in the model, they run in counter directions, which is not consistent with the hypothsized (the more events, the less attention). As it turns out, it is the significant variable (events/week) that runs in the proper direction. [Fortunately.] Together, these seven variables account for just shy of half of the variation in attention we see across the fifty states. Not a great fit, but not all that bad for a first pass.

The Prediction

With that baseline set, what level of attention can we predict Indiana would have gotten if it had shifted its presidential primary to February 3? We'll have to alter Indiana's numbers on events/day (7 events), events/week (7 events), percentage of neighbors going on the same date (0%) and the number of days after Iowa (15) to make this prediction. With those numbers imputed into the regression equation Indiana's predicted share of candidate attention rises from essentially nothing in reality to over five and a quarter percent had the Hoosier state's primary been held during the first week in February. That is consistent with the amount of attention Arizona actually got. Now, size doesn't matter in this model, but Arizona is a similarly-sized state to Indiana. Arizona did get the benefit of having a primary simultaneously with its eastern neighbor, New Mexico, which got a similar share of the total attention for the cycle.

Great, so, Indiana would have gotten about 60 times as much attention as it got in 2004 by moving from May to February, but how do we go about interpretting a share of attention. What does that mean in terms of the number of ads bought or the number of candidate visits to the state? I'm glad you asked. I'll pick up there tomorrow with part two.

*Yeah, but how do we go about reading those coefficients from the table above? We can see that the number of candidates in the race at the time of the contest and the number of events occurring in the same week as any given contest matter, but what do those numbers mean? In the case of the candidates variable, we can interpret that coefficient to mean that a one candidate increase translates to a 1.5% increase in the amount of attention a state receives. In a somewhat counteractive fashion, a one contest increase in the number of events in a given Wednesday-Tuesday week causes a 1.4% decrease in the share of attention a state garners. Of course the other variables play a role in determining this as well despite not being statistically significant. Substantively, both the percentage of delegates and primary/caucus distinction are significant, though the latter isn't as much as the extant literature might lead s to believe. In the case of the former, a one percent increase in the share of delegates a state had means a .4% increase in the amount of attention that state got.

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