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Frontloading

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FRONTLOADING

The "Big Bang Theory" of Selecting Nominees

The phenomenon of states moving their primary or caucus dates forward to try to increase their influence in the nominating process is not new, but it did reach extraordinary levels in 2000.  On March 7, 2000 eleven states held their primary elections and Democrats caucused in additional states, representing 26.8% of total Republican delegates and 37.2% of pledged Democratic delegates (30.3% of total Democratic delegates).

Frontloading is of concern for several reasons.  First, the rapid succession of contests gives the frontrunner a distinct advantage in that only he or she is likely to be able to marshall the resources needed to effectively compete in a cluster of early contests.  Alternatively, some observers have suggested that the short time-frame could create a situation where an outsider or longshot is able to pull a surprise showing in one or two early contests and then ride a wave of good press through the crush of primaries without receiving a thorough examination from media and voters.  A frontloaded schedule likely contributes to depressed voter participation in later contests.  Finally, presidential primaries do not occur in a vacuum but are often held in conjunction with state and local elections; moving the presidential primary can have downstream consequences.

To address the frontloading problem, Republicans adopted a rule at their 1996 Convention to encourage state parties to hold their primaries later in the primary season [Rule No 31(a)(6)(i)-(iv)].  The rule provided for an incentive scheme, awarding additional delegates to states holding later contests.  For example, states holding primaries towards the end of the season, between May 15 and June 20, received 10% more delegates.

The Republican plan failed to forestall the push to earlier primary dates.  The floodgates began to open on September 28, 1998, when California Gov. Pete Wilson signed a bill requiring the state's presidential primary to be held on the first Tuesday in March--the earliest possible date under the Democratic rules.  Wilson stated, "Our political clout will finally be worthy of our economic and cultural importance to America."

(California had long held its primaries on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June.  In 1996 the state experimented with moving its primary to the fourth Tuesday in March, but even with that advanced date both parties had essentially selected their presidential nominees by the time of the California primary). 

One effort which did not come to fruition was the Western Regional Presidential Primary advocated by Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt.  As originally outlined, the Western Primary would have grouped together up to eight Western states on an early March date in order to focus attention on Western issues and encourage the candidates to campaign in the region.  Ultimately only Colorado, Utah and Wyoming participated, and by March 10 the Democratic and Republican races had effectively been decided. 

In any event, other states followed California's lead.  The net result was the most frontloaded primary schedule ever, producing what one secretary of state termed a "big bang theory" of selecting the nominees.  What emerged from the big bang was the establishment candidates; Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore both prevailed handily on March 7.

A number of states or state parties even sought to edge in on Iowa and New Hampshire's sacred "first in the nation" status.  Throughout much of 1999 Louisiana Republicans moved ahead with plans to hold a contest in advance of the Iowa caucuses, as they had done in 1996; the effort eventually fell through.  Alaska Republicans conducted an early straw poll as they had done in 1996.  Michigan Democrats initially planned to hold caucuses on February 12, ahead of New Hampshire and in violation of DNC rules; they eventually backed down.  In the end, Iowa and New Hampshire kept their first positions, although the dates were moved forward in a ripple effect as other states advanced their dates.
 


 


 
Delegates at Stake in Republican Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
First Determining Step--Delegates May be Selected at Different Stages in the Process
Date
States Delegates % of Total 
Delegates

Cum..Dels to Date Cum. % to Date
24-Jan

IA
25
1.2%

25
1.2%

1-Feb

NH 17 0.8%
42 2.0%
8-Feb
DE 12 0.6%
54 2.6%
19-Feb
SC 37 1.8%
91 4.4%
22-Feb
AZ,MI 88 4.3%
179 8.7%
26-Feb
AS,GU,VI 12 0.6%
191 9.2%
27-Feb
PR 14 0.7%
205 9.9%
29-Feb
ND,VA,WA 112 5.4%
317 15.3%

7-Mar

CA,CT,GA,ME,MD,MA,MO,NY,OH,RI,VT 554 26.8%
871 42.2%
10-Mar
CO,UT,WY 91 4.4%
962 46.6%
14-Mar
FL,LA,MS,OK,TN,TX 341 16.5%
1303 63.1%
21-Mar
IL 74 3.6%
1377 66.7%

4-Apr

WI,PA 115 5.6%
1492 72.2%
25-Apr
MN 34 1.6%
1526 73.9%

2-May

DC,IN,NC 132 6.4%
1658 80.3%
9-May
NE,WV 48 2.3%
1706 82.6%
16-May
OR 24 1.2%
1730 83.7%
19-May
AK,HI 37 1.8%
1767 85.5%
23-May
ID,KY 83 4.0%
1850 89.5%
25-May
KS,NV 52 2.5%
1902 92.1%

6-Jun

AL,MT,NJ,NM,SD 164 7.9%
2066 100.0%
Source: Republican National Committee.  "2000 Republican Presidential Primary/Caucus Dates--2000 Republican National Convention Delegate Allocation."  February 2000.

 



Delegates at Stake in Democratic Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
Pledged Delegates Only
First Determining Step--Delegates May be Selected at Different Stages in the Process
Date
States Delegates % of Total 
Delegates

Cum..Dels to Date Cum. % to Date
24-Jan
IA 47 1.3%
47 1.3%

1-Feb

NH 22 0.6%
69 2.0%
.






7-Mar
CA,CT,GA,ME,MD,MA,MO,NY,OH,RI, VT;HI,ID,ND,WA,AS 1315 37.2%
1384 39.1%
9-Mar
SC 43 1.2%
1427 40.3%
10-Mar
CO,UT 75 2.1%
1502 42.5%
10-14-Mar
DemsAbr 7 0.2%
1509 42.7%
11-Mar
AZ,MI 156 4.4%
1685 47.6%
11,12-Mar
MN 74 2.1%
1759 49.7%
12-Mar
NV 20 0.6%
1779 50.3%
14-Mar
FL,LA,MS,OK,TN,TX 566 16.0%
2345 66.3%
14-Mar
GU 3 0.1%
2348 66.4%
21-Mar
IL 161 4.6%
2509 70.9%
25-Mar
WY 13 0.4%
2522 71.3%
26-Mar
PR 51 1.4%
2573 72.7%
27-Mar
DE 15 0.4%
2588 73.2%

1-Apr

VI 3 0.1%
2591 73.3%
4-Apr
KS,PA,WI 273 7.7%
2864 81.0%
15,17-Apr
VA 79 2.2%
2943 83.2%
22-Apr
AK 13 0.4%
2956 83.6%

2-May

DC,IN,NC 175 4.9%
3131 88.5%
9-May
NE,WV 56 1.6%
3187 90.1%
16-May
OR 47 1.3%
3234 91.4%
23-May
AR,KY 86 2.4%
3320 93.9%
6-Jun
AL,MT,NJ,NM,SD 217 6.1%
3537 100.0%
Source: Democratic National Committee.  "2000 Democratic Delegate Selection--Allocation Calendar"  February 2, 2000.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.

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