Goodbye, Super Tuesday - Competition Week


An Editorial

Since America is such a powerful force in the world for policing democracy, its strange how some believe that other countries should vote strictly in general elections when the Republican primaries are only a month away and finding an alternative to President Obama might all be decided by only one state.

In a situation that mirrors exactly what happened in 2008, Florida has changed the date of their state primary from March 6th to January 31st. The date actually came before the New Hampshire primary, which has a law mandating that the state have the first primary in the nation, and many states have had to quickly readjust by jumping forward to compensate.

In a procedure called ‘frontloading’, states have been moving their primaries earlier in the campaign, hoping to have a greater influence on the nomination. The RNC has tried to discourage Florida from changing the date of its primary, by threatening to issue sanctions, such as stripping Florida of a portion of its delegates, denying the delegates perks like hotel space or convention floor passes, or decertifying them entirely, but state legislators don’t care that they are going to loose half their delegates. As Florida State Representative David Rivera wrote in an e-mail to party officials, “It is indisputable that what matters most in the early primary season is MOMENTUM, not delegates.”

Florida and other large states agree that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada influence the candidate selection process far more than they should, given their early primary dates and lack of demographic and political diversity.

The question is, will Florida’s decision to move their primary so early in the campaign help to nominate a better candidate?

The graph below, courtesy of the 2008 “Reforming the Presidential Nomination Process” conference, shows how the primary season has increasingly become frontloaded, with the most primaries being held in the first few weeks of the nomination calendar.

This quick accumulation of delegates has effectively shortened the campaign so that candidates can wrap up nominations in a matter of weeks. Before 1988 when frontloading began, “an average of 83% of primaries took place prior to the effective end of the campaign. Once frontloading became common, this dropped to 50%.” [1]

The graph below, courtesy of the “State of the Party: 2004 & Beyond” conference, shows a steady decrease in how many weeks it took candidates in each party to get the 50 percent standard (i.e. when 50 percent of the delegates have been awarded):

Even though the number of candidates increases each year, candidates that do not acquire momentum quickly enough, and are forced to drop out of the race earlier and earlier.

The graph below compares the dropout rate of candidates, pre and post-frontloading.

Primaries have always started in smaller states because they provide “important cues to future voters about the electability of candidates,” while frontloading an election effectively enhances the bandwagon effect for the frontrunner, making for a shorter, more “mathematical” race.

The Iowa and New Hampshire state primaries allowed for lesser-known candidates to campaign more thoroughly, as they need more time to build momentum, fund raising, and media attention.

When underdog Jimmy Carter entered the race in 1975, he was only able to beat Gerald Ford by “launching an all out campaign effort in Iowa.”

Frontloading makes it especially hard for underdog candidates to gather enough money. As Tova Wang, Vice President for Research at Common Cause, explains, under the current rules, a candidate who opts into the system for both the primary and general elections does not begin to receive matching public funds until January 1st of the election year.”[3]

With Florida pushing the race to begin on January 3rd, candidates who rely on public finances only have 2 days to spend their matching funds. It is obvious that Florida is not looking to “diversify” the election. In fact, Wang tells us their decision to frontload the primary will inevitably “put pressure on campaigns to spend even more than ever.” [3] The result is a situation where the candidate’s access to money will be the decisive variable in the nomination.

This fact does not go unnoticed by the state legislators, who are only concerned with maximizing the influence of their own states. Even those who agree with the political scientists about the problems with a frontloaded calendar don’t want their own state to be the one left behind.

Florida doesn’t want a more diverse election. They want the candidates to visit their states early because the earlier a state holds it’s primary, the more they visit, and the more they spend on ads, hotels, and the million things that come with campaigning. [1]

The following chart shows how spending in states with early primaries far outweighs spending in states with later primaries.

Florida will continue to benefit from it’s early primary even after the nomination has been won, because the earlier a state holds its primary or caucus, the more federal procurement funding it receives per capita.

It is easy to see that Florida will have much to gain by moving it’s primary date so early, but it is just as obvious that that it will also hurt the general election. By shortening the nomination, and encouraging a bandwagon effect, it will disproportionally benefit wealthy candidates and actually create a less diverse election, as candidates drop like flies after just a few weeks.

The graph below shows how frontloading “decreases voter participation, and as a result, voter turnout also declines.” [1]

Before frontloading, states that held primaries later in the year still had an effect on the nomination, but now states with primaries and caucuses later in the spring don’t matter as much. “A lot of states are not just less influential, but have no effective voice in the process.”

Indeed, many states are realizing the folly of frontloading an election, and have begun to move their primaries back to their original dates. The legislative geniuses in the Garden State decided that the $11.2 million that it costs them to hold a primary separate from their traditional primary date for all other elected offices was not worth the cost.  So in 2012, New Jersey will join Montana.

If states do continue to move their primaries back, and hold both types of events on the same day, they not only extend the election but also “when voters can cast ballots in presidential primaries on the same day as other state party races, voter turnout increases by 5.5%.” [1]

While Florida continues to selfishly move it’s primary to the earliest date possible, other states are realizing that a “slower delegate accumulation encourages candidates to stay in the race longer and consequently mobilize voters in more states.” [1]

By having more candidates, that have had a longer time to be vetted by a greater population, we will have better representation, but it’s not going to happen until the incentive to frontload is diminished. That’s why we need publicly financed elections, which will give no state a reason push their primaries forward, because, in the end, the only reason Florida is doing this, is for the money, not to elect a better president.


  1. Racing To the Front: The Effect of Frontloading on Presidential Primary Turnout. Lonna Rae Atkeson. Cherie D. Maestas. New Mexico: University of New Mexico, 2008.
  2. “Presidential Primaries and Frontloading: An Empirical Polemic” Mark J. Wattier Ohio: Murray State University, 2005
  3. Wang, Tova. The presidential primary system’s democracy problems. New York: Century Foundation, 2007. Print
  4. “The Importance of Being Early: Presidential Primary Front-Loading and the Impact of the Proposed Western Regional Primary” Travis N. Ridout and Brandon Rottinghaus Washington: Political Science & Politics 2008