The History of Presidential Primaries

This is a fairly interesting document.  It takes a look back at each of the primary battles since 1972, as well as the delegate strength score after each primary date.  The delegate strength score is an indication of the likelihood that the leading candidate is going to secure the nomination.  It’s a formula based on the number of delegates won, the number of delegates needed to win the nomination, and the number of remaining delegates.

Right now Mitt Romney’s delegate strength score is 15, which is fairly weak for this point in the process.  In the previous four seriously contested Republican presidential primaries, things were all wrapped up after Super Tuesday – technically McCain needed another week, but it was basically over after Super Tuesday.  We’re nowhere close to wrapping this thing up.

It’s also interesting to look at some of those vote totals.  Bob Dole was basically a juggernaut.  That’s right, Bob Dole. He rolled over his competition, winning almost every single contest by double digits, securing majorities or near-majorities in most states and in a fairly crowded field (albeit a field of mediocre candidates).  Even John McCain’s victory totals were fairly impressive.  While Romney’s had a few substantial wins, his pattern looks nothing like previous Republican nominees.

6 Responses to The History of Presidential Primaries

  • John Henry says:

    The main thing that strikes me looking at the document is that it’s hard to do an apples to apples because of the timing of the primaries. Over half the states haven’t even voted yet this year, whereas in 2008 29 had by March 6. The RNC in it’s remarkably finite wisdom decided to drag the process out as long as possible this year with lots of spaced primaries and proportional voting; the result is that it was always going to be hard for anyone to win early. If the current set up had been in place in 2008, there is almost no way John McCain would have had the nomination wrapped up by this point – and Romney wouldn’t have dropped out.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    That crossed my mind as well, John, but if you look at the total number of contests held by the Super Tuesday date, the number of total primaries and caucuses held thus far is about on par – in fact it’s a little more – than in 1996 and 2008 (and 2008 was atypical as to how early Super Tuesday was and generally how front-loaded the schedule was). So far a little more than a third of all delegates have been awarded, as compared to 1996 when about 40% had been awarded through Super Tuesday, and a little more than half in 2008. So I think we’re at a fairly comparable point in the process.

    On the other hand, Democratic primaries have been not as definitive except for 2000 and 2004. McGovern, Carter (1976), Dukakis and even Obama (and to a slightly lesser extent, Clinton) didn’t have things nailed down until about May or even June. It’s mainly the GOP that hasn’t had a truly competitive primary season that lasted much past mid-March, at least since Ford-Reagan.

  • The reason McCain and Dole were about done by Super Tuesday is that we conservatives were used to falling into line. Remember, the saying goes, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” Then Obama pushed us over our last line in the sand, we organized the Tea Party and in the 2010 election, gave him a good shellacking.
    Now, we want a true conservative, not the establishment cadidate Romney.
    WE WANT RICK SANTORUM!!

  • Paul Zummo says:

    Also, at this point, someone other than Romney has won nine of the 23 contests. These are the total number of primaries/caucuses the previous GOP nominees have lost since Ford in 1976-
    Reagan: 5
    GHW Bush: 2
    Dole: 3
    G W Bush: 7
    McCain: 10

    Romney will very possibly lose several of the upcoming primaries, so he’ll have been the most battered Republican nominee, if nothing else.

    Edit: Actually, I think this report misses some caucuses, so the numbers above are probably a tad higher (though not Dole – I’m pretty sure that’s dead on).

  • John Henry says:

    That crossed my mind as well, John, but if you look at the total number of contests held by the Super Tuesday date, the number of total primaries and caucuses held thus far is about on par – in fact it’s a little more – than in 1996 and 2008 (and 2008 was atypical as to how early Super Tuesday was and generally how front-loaded the schedule was)

    I don't know. I look at 2008 and there were only 548 remaining delegates out of 2300 left at this point in the cycle. This year, there are about 1500 left out of 2300. That makes an enormous difference in creating plausible scenarios for Santorum or even Newt to claim they are still in it that would not have been possible at this point in 2008.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    I’ve thought for years (and actually wrote an essay in college on this topic) that presidential primaries ought to be grouped by region (New England/Northeast, South, Midwest, West) and held about 3-4 weeks apart from February through May or March through June. A different region could vote first each election cycle. Perhaps the regions could be defined in such a way that each election day determines roughly the same number of delegates. That way, candidates can concentrate on campaigning by region and vast swaths of the country are not ignored simply because their primary is “too late.”

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