The Presidential Nominating Calendar
posted by Gerard Magliocca
Sorry to interrupt the Symposium. I always wonder if I should post during a Symposium, but anyway . . .
One theme of federalism scholarship is that we sometimes need central authority to prevent “a race to the bottom.” In other words, with respect to certain regulatory topics, a state would be discouraged from acting on its own because business and people would flee to other states. Of course, some people think that this constraint keeps states from enacting foolish policies, but on some subjects the constraint keeps them from adopting beneficial ones. Only a national law can accomplish the goal, because moving to another country is harder.
The presidential nomination calendar provides an interesting perspective on this sort of state competition. There is significant value in being early in the presidential primary season. Candidates drop lots of money on TV ads and rallies in your state. Your state’s issues get a lot of attention. And you have influence over who gets nominated. Why, then, doesn’t every state try to be Iowa and New Hampshire? One answer is that Iowa and New Hampshire say that they will always change their election dates to be first, but that would lead to a clear “race to the bottom” without end. Tradition supplies another reason, but the “tradition” of the Iowa caucuses only goes back to 1976. No central authority is responsible. The parties can try to influence the primary calendar, but they cannot compel a state to pick one date over another. What accounts for the relative stability of the system in the last thirty years? Perhaps there isn’t as much to the “race to the bottom” theory as one might think. Or is there a kind of game theory equilibrium at work?