2015 is not 2011.
Aside from a steady stream of light chatter throughout the late summer and fall about the proposed SEC primary, there just has not been much talk or, for that matter, action on the presidential primary movement front. Granted, while most state legislatures have convened for 2015 sessions, many have not settled in for the business-as-usual legislative work. Still, at this point four years ago, there was slightly more activity on the state-level to tweak the calendar positions of a number of presidential primaries. In mid-January 2011, there were bills that had been introduced to shift the dates on which presidential primaries would be held in 2012 in California, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia and other primary-date-related legislation in Washington.
From a numbers standpoint, things are not altogether different in 2015. The stream is more a trickle with only Arizona and Oklahoma proposing primary moves thus far.1 One reaction is that it is simply too early to tell any significant difference between the two cycles. Yes, we are talking about a 50% decrease from 2011 to 2015, but substantively that represents only a subtle drop from four to two bills across cycles. That may not be enough to warrant even a meh.
It is early, but there is reason to think that there will be far less primary movement in 2015 than there was in 2011. The bills aren't there, but neither is the chatter. There is no talk of what Florida might do. The Sunshine state pulled back from the 2016 precipice in 2013. The constant "will they or won't they" drumbeat about Florida in 2011 reverberated, affecting decision-making in other states (notably the carve-out states, but others as well).
The most striking difference between 2011 and 2015, though, is based on the rules. Both the DNC and RNC informally agreed to a calendar structure that had the four carve-out states with February contests and all other states following in March or later. That intention has carried over to the 2016 cycle as well. The baseline, starting point calendar was different in 2011 than it is in 2015. FHQ touched on this last week (see map), but it bears repeating if not some accentuation. In January 2011, there were 18 primary states with laws in place calling for February primaries. That is, there were 18 states that were non-compliant with the delegate selection rules of both national parties. Those states had to change to avoid sanctions.
That is missing in 2015.
There is far less urgency on the state level to comply with the national parties' rules. Only Michigan, New York and North Carolina are in direct violation of those rules. Even then, Michigan and New York are likely to move into compliance.2 Other states could be early and non-compliant, but have options built into state laws that provide them with some flexibility (see Colorado, Minnesota and Utah).
The transition from 2012 to 2016 -- from a primary movement perspective -- is a lot like the one from 2004 to 2008, but in reverse. Republicans had allowed some February contests beyond the carve-outs in 1996 and 2000, but that was limited because the DNC still set the first Tuesday in March as the earliest date on which states other than Iowa and New Hampshire could conduct delegate selection events. For the 2004 cycle, the DNC changed course, allowing February contests by pushing that "earliest date" from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February. The state-level reaction was not a tidal wave of movement forward for 2004. Some states moved up to that earliest compliant position -- Arizona, North Dakota and Oklahoma among them -- but the significant movement did not occur until the 2008 cycle when both parties had the prospect of active and competitive nomination races.
The change in rules in both national parties for 2012 was intended to eliminate the February issue. But as was the case from 2000-2008, reversing course can and usually does take multiple cycles. That is how it is in this iterative and sequential process. The national parties devise delegate selection rules often to fight the last war and the states react. Most react in accordance with those rules changes, but some do not. Those laggards are the ones the national parties target with rules changes in the next round; the next cycle.
That 2016 is about cleaning up the stragglers from the national parties' perspectives instead of affecting some wholesale change in state behavior is why 2015 is not 2011.
...and we probably won't get a repeat of this.
1 Oregon and South Carolina both have primary-related bills, but neither piece of legislation directly affects the date on which the presidential primaries will be conducted.
2 Michigan Republicans have endorsed a later date and New York shifted back from February to April for 2012 (but placed a sunset provision on the change). The primary is back in February, but unlikely to stay there.
State Legislatures Move Most Presidential Primaries. ...But They Have to Change State Law First
Oklahoma Bill Would Move Presidential Primary Back Three Weeks
Oregon Bill Would Split Presidential, Other Primaries
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