February 4, 2008: The Importance of Being Early: Presidential Primary Front-Loading APSA Press Release

For Immediate Release
Bahram Rajaee, (202) 483-2512

The Importance of Being Early: Presidential Primary Front-Loading and the Impact of the Proposed Western Regional Primary

Washington, DC—In an election season characterized by the maneuvering for early primary dates among states, a new study conducted by political scientists examines how early caucuses and primaries have become crucial in the race for the White House. The study takes a look at how states use the two strategies known as “front-loading” and proposed regional primaries in an effort to boost influence in the presidential nomination process.

Travis N. Ridout (Washington State University) and Brandon Rottinghaus (University of Houston) explore these strategies in “The Importance of Being Early: Presidential Primary Front-Loading and the Impact of the Proposed Western Regional Primary,” published in the January issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, a journal of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The full article is available online at www.apsanet.org/imgtest/PSJan08RidoutRottinghaus.pdf.

Front-loading is the phenomenon of states moving their primary or caucus dates forward in an effort to increase their influence in the nomination process. The authors examine the effect of front-loading on presidential candidates who are visiting and advertising in these states. They also examine the effect a regional primary could have on the amount of recognition a state receives from the candidates.

Using data gathered from the 2000 and 2004 presidential nomination races on both candidate advertising and travel patterns, Ridout and Rottinghaus predict how much attention states participating in a possible western regional primary could receive in 2008. Their analysis suggests that schedulers for such a primary ought to select a date closely following the New Hampshire primary in order attract candidate attention. For example, in Arizona the expected number of visits by presidential candidates falls from 27 to 18 if the state’s primary was held 30 days after New Hampshire’s compared to 10 days afterwards.  The study also finds that having a high delegate count is less important than when the primary is scheduled.

The authors conclude that the impact of front-loading is more significant than that of any regional primary. States holding nominations long after the New Hampshire’s were much less likely to receive a candidate visit, and the number of simultaneous nomination events in contiguous states had “no impact on the frequency with which the candidates visited a state.”  Notably, while the size of the state mattered for predicting candidate visits (states with more delegates to be won received more visits than states with less delegates) the size of the state did not impact advertising as advertising costs increase in proportion to the size of the audience. When candidates decide where to campaign, “timing trumps all else.”

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 The American Political Science Association (est. 1903) is the leading professional organization for the study of politics and has over 14,000 members in 80 countries. For more news and information about political science research visit the APSA media website, www.politicalsciencenews.org.

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