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Early primaries would boost states’ impact

PULLMAN – As they prepare to caucus this weekend in the shadow of Super Tuesday’s much-publicized presidential primary, a new study by a WSU professor and political scientist suggests Washington’s voters could likely have boosted their impact on the race for the White House had they instead participated in an earlier primary process.

Conducted by WSU Assistant Professor Travis Ridout and his colleague Brandon Rottinghouse of the University of Houston, the study a look at how states use “front-loading” and regional primaries in an effort to increase their influence in the presidential nomination process.

Front-loading is the phenomenon of states moving their primary or caucus dates forward in an effort to have greater effect on the nomination process. The researchers examined the effect of front-loading on how presidential candidates choose to make appearances and purchase advertising in different states. They also examined the effect a regional primary could have on the amount of recognition a state receives from the candidates.

Published in the most recent issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, a journal of the American Political Science Association (APSA), Ridout and Rottinghouse’s research used data gathered from the 2000 and 2004 presidential nomination races on both candidate advertising and travel patterns in an attempt to predict how much attention states participating in a possible western regional primary might receive in 2008.

Their analysis suggests that the schedulers for such a primary would do best to select a date closely following the New Hampshire primary to attract candidate attention. For example, in Arizona the expected number of visits by presidential candidates falls from 27 should that state’s primary be held within ten days following New Hampshire’s to 18 were it not to be held until 30 days after. The study also concludes that having a high delegate count is less important an influence on the candidates’ decisions on the amount and number of advertising and public appearances in a state than is the timing of the state’s primary.

States holding nominations long after the New Hampshire primary 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,” according to the study.

The complete text of Ridout and Rottinghouse’s article, “The Importance of Being Early: Presidential Primary Front-Loading and the Impact of the Proposed Western Regional Primary,” is available online at

Ridout, who has served as an election night consultant to CBS News, is also a co-author of “Campaign Advertising and American Democracy,” recently published by Temple University Press. The carefully researched work confronts prevailing opinions of political advertisements, reflecting the authors’ findings that political ads may actually educate, engage and mobilize American voters – only rarely demonstrating negative impacts.

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