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Presidential Election Primary Dates

Every presidential election year, the issue of states’ primary dates comes up. Traditionally, Iowa votes on February 6, and then New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina vote later in the month. This year, however, South Carolina scheduled its Republican primary for January 21. Analysts predict that this move will cause states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to reschedule their primaries to dates in January. Any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina is not permitted by the Republican or Democratic parties to hold their primaries before March 6. If they do hold their race before then, they are penalized by losing the number of state delegates permitted to attend the parties’ national conventions This scenario can be related to several networks concepts.

First, the root cause of why states want to hold their elections before anyone else is the belief that voting first gives their votes more significance. In other words, when people make decisions sequentially, later deciders tend to agree with earlier deciders because the later people believe that the earlier people have access to more information than the later people. Because of this information cascade phenomenon, the voters of states that hold their primaries first have a larger impact on the election because later voters follow their decisions. For this reason, candidates pay more attention to states that hold their primaries earlier.

Secondly, the efforts of states to hold their primaries before any other state can be modeled as games. One subgame of this competition would be the game where states compete to have the earliest date, regardless of whether that date violates primary rules. A simplified model of this game might be set up with the following rules: the players are two different states, state A and state B. Each state can decide whether it holds its primary in week 1 or week 2. Then, a table of the game might look like the following:

   

State B

 

Week 1

Week 2

State A

Week 1

0, 0

15, -5

Week 2

-5, 15

0, 0

Here, if both states hold their elections in the same week, then neither state benefits. But, if one state holds its election before the other state, then the early voters gain while the later voters lose. If state A holds its election in week 1, then state B ‘s best response would be to hold its election in week 1. If state A holds its election in week 2, then state B’s best response is to hold its election in week 1. Using the parallel argument for state A’s best response to state B’s actions, the Nash equilibrium for this situation is for both states to hold their primary elections in week 1. In fact, if this model were to be extended to all fifty states, then it could be shown that the dominant strategy for all of the states would be to hold their election at the earliest permissible date.

Another subgame of the primaries dates game is whether or not to violate the March 6 rule. A simplified model of this game might be set up with the following rules: the players are two different states, state A and state B. Each state can decide whether or not to violate the March 6 rule. Then, a table of the game might look like the following:

   

State B

 

Violate

Don’t Violate

State A

Violate

0, 0

4, 3

Don’t Violate

3, 4

0, 0

These values were derived by assigning +3 if the proportion of a state’s representatives relative to all representatives from the two states at the convention increased, -3 is the proportion decreased, and +7 if the state voted before the other state (+7 was chosen because the behavior of states in the past has shown that they value the advantage of voting first slightly above the penalty of losing delegates, and the net loss for losing delegates is -6).

Thus, if state B violates the rule, then state A’s best response is not to violate it. If state B does not violate the rule, the state A’s best response is to violate the rule. Thus, there is no pure equilibrium strategy for this game. Rather, the states would need to evaluate the true costs and benefits of losing representatives and/or voting first, and then decide how often they should violate the rule for the presidential election seasons over the years.

One final consideration is the effect of the states’ primary dates on the election outcome. Candidates do better in different states. For example, if southern states like Florida and Georgia held their primaries earlier, then this would benefit Texas Governer Rick Perry. If Arizona or Michigan voted earlier, then this would benefit Mitt Romney, who has Morman ties to Arizona and native ties to Michigan. Since the information cascade phenomenon can determine the national election results, the choice of which state holds its primary first gives a huge advantage to the candidate favored in that region.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/22/us/politics/22calendar.html?ref=primaries

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/2012-primary-calendar-arizona-to-decide-first-starting-presidential-fun/2011/08/30/gIQAphkLsJ_blog.html

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44380348/ns/politics-decision_2012/t/arizona-opts-not-bring-primary-forward-jan/#.TsC7O0Mg_m0

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