Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Polls and Elections: Still Part of the Conversation: Iowa and New Hampshire's Say within the Invisible Primary

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Polls and Elections: Still Part of the Conversation: Iowa and New Hampshire's Say within the Invisible Primary

Article excerpt

The presidential nomination process continues to change, and so too does our understanding of which factors drive nomination outcomes. The most recent changes have come in the form of drastic adjustments to the schedule of state contests. Nomination campaigns have become increasingly front-loaded, compressed, and nationalized (Mayer and Busch 2004), making the preprimary campaign, or what is also termed the invisible primary or the exhibition season, a powerful force in the selection of party nominees for president. Indeed candidates for nomination often withdraw in this period, and party nominations are clinched within, what was until recently, mostly shorter and shorter time periods (Haynes et al. 2004; Norrander 2006). Recent scholarship now emphasizes that a candidate's level of funding and national political support at the beginning of the primary season largely determine who wins the nomination (Adkins and Dowdle 2001, 2005; Cohen et al. 2008; Mayer 1996, 2003; Steger et al. 2004; Steger 2007). As a result, long shots have less of a chance to compete with early front-runners (Steger 2000), leading some scholars to conclude that parties have essentially turned back previous electoral reforms (Aldrich 2009; Cohen et al. 2008).

While the national invisible primary appears to hold greater importance, the role of the traditional early state bellwethers, Iowa and New Hampshire, is now in doubt. Recent analyses of what predicts nomination success have painted the contribution of New Hampshire as small and Iowa as nonexistent (Adkins and Dowdle 2001; Steger et al. 2004; Steger 2007), to the point some scholars liken these contests to "bumps in the road" (Adkins and Dowdle 2001, 2004). The minor role of these states thus pales in comparison to that of national party endorsements, campaign cash reserves, and national poll standings at the end of the invisible primary period.

Although convincing, these findings present a puzzle: why then are candidates still devoting a substantial amount of attention and resources to these contests? (1) We propose that Iowa and New Hampshire continue to be powerful players within nomination contests, because the increasingly visible invisible primary grants these states a different means of influence. National levels of candidate viability and exposure are responsive to the dynamics of these state contests, since long-shot candidates and the media predominately focus on these two states throughout the invisible primary. As a result, the happenings of the Iowa and New Hampshire campaign have an important say within the national invisible primary before the votes in these states are actually tallied.

Using data from the 2008 presidential nomination campaign, we evaluate these claims with daily measures of candidate prominence in national news coverage, national polls, and Iowa and New Hampshire polls during the last half of 2007. We accommodate for missing data, sampling error, and reciprocal influences by estimating a Bayesian state space vector autoregression model. We find that a candidate's early performance within Iowa and New Hampshire is equally if not more of a contributing factor to national polls and national media coverage as they are a reaction to them. The subsequent analysis of weekly campaign contribution totals also shows that polling performance within these early states has a strong influence on campaign contributions during the invisible primary that equals the contribution of national polling performance. Although these findings do not dispute the importance of candidates needing sufficient national support entering an election year to win a party's nomination, they provide evidence that states like Iowa and New Hampshire still have a profound but indirect influence on the process. To the extent a candidate can gain early support in these states, they will likely increase their national popular support and campaign contributions before any election is held. …

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