Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Money Primary: What Influences the Outcome of Pre-Primary Presidential Nomination Fundraising? (Articles)

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Money Primary: What Influences the Outcome of Pre-Primary Presidential Nomination Fundraising? (Articles)

Article excerpt

During the early days of the presidential nomination campaign cycle, before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, candidates aspiring to win one of the two major party nominations compete for financial resources. Damore (1997) reported that in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Democratic nomination contests, 42 percent of campaign funds were raised even before the primaries or caucuses were held. Hinckley and Green (1996), who concurred with these findings in their study of the 1988 presidential nomination fundraising cycle, concluded that the Republican candidates raised between 67 and 87 percent of their total funding during the pre-primary period. While many factors influence the outcome of presidential nominations, early fundraising activity is among the most important. The principal research question explored herein is what factors affect the success of pre-primary fundraising of presidential aspirants in their efforts to become their party's nominee? The answer to this question may, in turn, lead to a more detailed understanding of the dynamics of successful candidacies in post-reform presidential nomination politics.

Candidates winning the money primary also tend to win the presidential nominations of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Specifically, the term money primary refers to the competition of candidates for financial resources contributed by the partisan elites before the primaries begin. The strength of the relationship between winning the money primary and winning the nomination is very robust in the post-reform period. Since 1980, with one exception, the candidate raising the greatest total receipts by the end of the money primary went on to become the nominee of the party. (1) As the campaign expenditure reports from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) indicate, it is no accident that Reagan, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Dole (1996), Bush (2000), and Gore (2000) all led the money primary and all won the nomination.

A quarter century ago, Keech and Matthews (1976) recognized the importance of pre-primary campaign activity during the exhibition season. (2) They found that in presidential nomination contests from 1936 to 1972 (with 1972 being the primary exception), the front-runners at the beginning of the presidential nomination process tended to win because of the importance of campaign activities in the three years preceding the election (p. 227). Following those reforms, Aldrich (1980a) established that the new rules put into place shifted the power in presidential nomination selection away from party elites to primary and caucus voters "before the convention." Subsequently, the dynamics of presidential campaign strategy also changed, fueled primarily by the triumph of relatively unknown candidates garnering the Democratic nomination like George McGovern and Jimmy Carter and the ability of other second-tier candidates like George Bush and Gary Hart to perform well (even though they came up short in the end). Building on these arguments, the next wave of scholarship led by Aldrich (1980a, 1980b) and Bartels (1985, 1988) linked candidate performance in early primaries and caucuses to winning the nomination in what became a very dynamic, sequential primary process. Given the dramatic changes in the methods of nominating presidential candidates during the 1970s and 1980s, Cook (1989) adeptly characterized the process with the phrase, "the only constant is change."

More recent scholarship views the presidential nomination process as stabilizing into a relatively predictable pattern. Barilleaux and Adkins (1993) contended that there is now a recognizable "rhythm to the race." In support of this principle, Mayer (1996c) wrote,

 
   Recent presidential nomination contests have, in fact, been less chaotic 
   than they might appear at first glance; that nomination races are actually 
   conducted under a system of rules and norms that give considerable 
   structure and regularity to the process. … 
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