I've been in the "lab" this last week working with dissertation data and noticed a bit of a quirk in the nomination calendars of past cycles. [Yes, the exciting life of a person who examines delegate selection event positioning. Ooh and technical jargon, too!] The calendar for the 1980 cycle and the one for this current cycle are exactly the same. No, I don't mean that California went on June 3 during both years because California definitely doesn't have another presidential primary planned for this year [...that I know of]. The actual yearly calendars for both years are the same though. So it was interesting to look at where states were then versus where they have gone or will go this year.
Pennsylvania drew my attention to this. I looked and saw that the Keystone state held its nominating contest on the same April 22 date in 1980 that they will hold their contest on this year. And seven other states fit the same category in one way or another. Indiana, North Carolina (both May 6) and Oregon (May 20) are holding primaries for both parties on the same dates they did in 1980. Nebraska (May 13) and Idaho (May 27) Republicans are also holding primaries on the same dates they did twenty-eight years ago. Both are state funded primaries that Democrats have opted out of. Nebraska Democrats just this cycle abandoned that third Tuesday in May date for a caucus the weekend after Super Tuesday. Idaho Democrats have long shunned the state primary in favor of a caucus (every cycle from the 1980 onward). And though Montana Democrats (June 3) have switched back and forth several times between holding independent caucuses or state run primaries to select delegates, they have opted to employ the first Tuesday in June date on which the state's primaries are typically held. Finally, Kentucky has frontloaded its primary for 2008 versus 1980; moving up a week from May 27 to May 20 over the course of those twenty-eight years.
The question is: What stands in the way of these states moving like all the rest? Well, all of these states with the exception of Indiana have moved since 1980. North Carolina and Kentucky moved up for the Southern Super Tuesday in 1988. [Actually Kentucky switched to a caucus for 1984 and was a part of a Southern Super week. Following Alabama, Florida and Georgia's second Tuesday in March contests, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi all held caucuses on the Saturday after.] The legislation in both cases called for temporary moves. Oregon moved to mid-March in 1996 and Pennsylvania moved to early April in 2000 before immediately returning to their traditional dates. And even though Idaho, Montana and Nebraska have maintained the same state funded presidential primary dates throughout this period, one party has consistently shown the willingness to opt out and hold a caucus independent of the state.
Why then is Indiana different? Part of the reason is that Indiana holds their presidential primaries simultaneously with its state and local primaries. Moving entails either moving all of the primaries or creating an all new election; both of which have costs. Incidentally, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania all are in the same boat. Both Alabama and Arkansas were in similar situations before both severed the bond between presidential and state/local primaries to hold a separate presidential primary in 2008. Those moves underscore a couple of trends that have emerged. First, more and more states have been willing to split primaries over this period. There has also been a movement away from temporary moves toward more permanent moves. I would argue that as the frontloaded/Super Tuesday model became normalized, states shifted from temporary moves to test the waters of the new process to permanent moves to be a part of the established system or be left on the outside looking in.
This split primaries issue is the basis of one of my dissertation chapters, the roots of which can be found in this paper from SPSA 2007.