Wednesday, January 5, 2011

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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