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States That Vote Early Can Reap Benefits If They Pick a Winner

The 2008 presidential campaign season had the earliest statewide primaries and caucuses in memory, starting with the Iowa Caucus on Jan. 3. Now new research from North Carolina State University shows that states may have good reason to push for an early contest. States that hold early presidential primaries or caucuses get a larger share of per capita federal procurement spending compared to other states, the new study says. But being early is not enough, study author Dr. Andrew Taylor says – states must also pick the winner.

“Obviously this has real-world ramifications,” Taylor says. “Here is some evidence that order does matter, and that there is some incentive for states to try to move forward in the presidential nomination process.”

Evaluating data from 1984 through 2004, the new report finds that the earlier a state holds its primary or caucus, the more federal procurement funding it receives per capita – as long as it backed the candidate who ultimately won the White House. Taylor explains that states receive minimal benefit if they vote early but back a candidate who ultimately drops out of the race or loses the election. Federal procurement is federal funding for goods and services, such as defense contracts.

States that hold later contests, after the field of candidates has been narrowed, have a better chance at picking the winning candidate. But Taylor says that advantage is effectively negated, because states with later primaries or caucuses won’t receive much – if any – added benefit for backing the winner.

For example, Taylor’s research shows that “If the first state chooses the ultimately victorious presidential candidate in a competitive nomination … it receives $35.29 more in procurement per capita than if it had picked a loser.” In comparison, the benefit if the eighth state picks the eventual winner would be approximately $22.05 more in procurement per capita. Beyond the ninth contest, Taylor says, the benefits are no longer statistically significant.

The paper, “Does Presidential Primary and Caucus Order Affect Policy?” was published online in Political Research Quarterly. Taylor is the chair of the Department of Political Science in NC State’s School of Public and International Affairs.


Note to editors: The study abstract follows.

“Does Presidential Primary and Caucus Order Affect Policy?”

Author: Andrew J. Taylor, North Carolina State University

Published: March 20, 2009, online in Political Research Quarterly

Abstract: This article examines the contention that states with early presidential primaries or caucuses receive disproportionate distributive policy benefits. The basic theory is that presidential candidates pledge more federal spending per capita to these states because doing well in their contests is critical to capturing the nomination. Candidates then deliver on these promises if they win the White House. Using by-state procurement per capita data from 1984 to 2004, four conditional hypotheses derived from this thinking are tested. The results show that primary or caucus order matters only during competitive nominations when the ultimately victorious presidential candidate won the state’s contest.