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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