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News Why are presidential primaries not all on one day?

  1. Sep 20, 2004 #1
    I don't get why Presidential elections are all on the same day, and the Primaries are spaced out over such a large time. I mean, pretty much if you do crappy in Iowa and New Hampshire, you get out of the race or just fight a losing battle the whole way, and Iowa and New Hampshire really don't do a great job of representing the whole country (as no 2 states could). I mean, if the states that had the first contests were different than the current ones, the results would be so radically different, but still, not representative of the country as a whole. So why is it that primaries/caucasses aren't all on one day like Presidential elections?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2004 #2
    It gives candidates an opportunity to campaign in each state.
  4. Sep 20, 2004 #3
    Well why not have it like the Presidential elections, where the campaigns start way before the actual elections? I mean, neither Bush or Kerry are complaining that the elections aren't staggered to give them enough time to campaign in each state, they just start campaigning many months before the election.

    Does anyone know when/why it was decided that primaries should be on different days but Presidential election all on one day?
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2004
  5. Sep 21, 2004 #4
    I think it is up to each state to decide when they want to hold their primaries. I suppose it would be hard to get them to agree on a common date.

    I fail to see the significance in any of this. Does it matter?
  6. Sep 21, 2004 #5


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    It is up to the states, and the significance is that momentum is key: it affects the outcome of the primary process. In 2000, McCain started small but gained momentum and was about ready to take the lead when the RNC torpedoed him.
  7. Sep 21, 2004 #6
    Why were the states given the ability to decide when to hold their Presidential Primaries, but not when to hold their General Elections?

    Russ got it, it's all about momentum, and I think giving a few select states the ability to decide who wins is just not right. I want to be able to have an effect on who gets their party's nomination, and in NY, the primaries are so late that it really doesn't matter, since the winner's pretty much clear by the time the primaries get around to here. I don't wanna have to move to Iowa or New Hampshire to make my vote in the primary matter.
  8. Sep 21, 2004 #7
    The Constitution mandates that the election be held on a common date. Since the Constitution does not involve itself in the choice of candidates, the power falls back to the states.

    Now, the DNC and RNC could, I suppose, mandate a common date. Not sure if they have ever tried.
  9. Sep 21, 2004 #8
    Can you think of any reasons the DNC and RNC, or the legislature, wouldn't want them on a common date? I mean, are there any sinister self-serving advantages to having Iowa and New Hampshire deciding their candidates?
  10. Sep 21, 2004 #9
    Again, it is probably just tradition. When the states decided on the dates, some just happened to hold them earlier than others. But I'm only guessing.
  11. Sep 21, 2004 #10


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    The U.S. Constitution says that all powers not enumerated in it as federal are reserved to the states. The actual election is specified in the Constitution, but the primaries are not, so the states can do what they want, individually. To change this you would have to amend the Constitution.
  12. Sep 21, 2004 #11


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    There's an advantage to a more prolonged primary schedule with small states at the beginning. That creates a balance between the big and the small, the known and the unknown.

    The grass-roots guys with limited funding get a crack at winning a small state where it's cheaper to campaign and generating some momentum that might attract enough money to last the duration of the primaries. A little time between primaries gives the grass-root guys time to take in the extra campaign money and voters in the next primary time to figure out just who this new guy is.

    An early loss is seldom catastrophic to a party favorite, unless he does badly in a few early states and loses so much momentum he can't recover. He's already got enough campaign money to last the primary and the key to his winning is to still be perceived as the best candidate by time the small-fries weed themselves out and the major states come along.

    Theoretically, the campaign favorites have already been vetted and everyone knows the potential liabilities that may blow up in the summer or fall to derail the candidate's campaign. The grass-roots guy popping up out of nowhere is a little more of an unkown. Regardless, a long primary campaign gives a chance for any skeletons to be exposed before he wins the nomination.

    Doesn't usually work that well and many feel the early momentum from a couple of 'insignificant' state unduly affects the nomination process - which is why the primary season was condensed this year in an attempt to minimize the affect of the small states (all except New Hampshire and Iowa, which still get to go first).

    Did it work better?
  13. Sep 21, 2004 #12


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    That's exactly the reason: its self-serving to have them on different dates so they do.
  14. Sep 21, 2004 #13
    The thing is, I don't see how it's self serving, could you elaborate?
  15. Sep 21, 2004 #14


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    It benefits the small states by allowing them to pretend they matter for a little while and it benefits the parties by stretching out their advertising time.
  16. Sep 21, 2004 #15


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    Well, the states that go first are obviously at an advantage, and consequently get a disproportionate influence on the results of the primaries. As a consequence there has been a good bit of manuevering on the part of states which are trying to get their primaries to be earlier. There are various plans, for example one that leaves early primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then consolidates the rest of the states into four days with some rotation among the balance of the states.

    Realistically, cadidates generally benefit from having early primaries in (realtively) small states because it limits the cost of early campaigning. This also limits the influence of money on the early primary, so that relative longshots (like Kerry) can still make inroads. Running a competitive campaign on the national scale is finiacially difficult.

    There are, of course, also drawbacks since the early states can have a disproportionate influence on the results of the primary. However, IIRC Clinton and Bush the lesser both lost some early primaries, but managed to get the nomination. Kerry got a huge boost this year because he did unexpectedly well, more than for carrying the Iowa caucuses.

    In general, and as a political independant, it bothers me more that the government sponsors these primaries with tax money than that the primaries are not necessarily set up scientifically.
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