Presidential Primaries: Who Votes First?

A presidential election is held in the United States every four years, with one candidate from each political party appearing on the ballot.  The candidate from a particular party is chosen through primary elections and political caucuses, held state-by-state.  Recently there has been much debate about how to reform the primary system.  Options include a nationwide one-day primary, regional primaries, rotating the order of primaries, or arranging the order states vote based on population.

The Election Assistance Commission has asked for your help.  They have decided not to change the overall system, with states holding primaries in some particular order, but they want you to analyze the ordering system and determining, via a mathematical model, in what order the states should vote.

How many will vote? Create a model that predicts what percentage of the national voting-eligible population will vote in a primary election.  Use your model to predict what percentage of the eligible population will vote in two-primary year (such as 2016, when a candidate for each major political party must be chosen) versus in a one-primary year (such as 2012, when one of the presidential candidates will be the incumbent president).

Do early votes “count more?” Develop a model that determines what percentage of the voting-eligible population will cast primary ballots in a state that is the nth of the fifty states to hold a primary election. You may consider other factors when building your model, such as, but not limited to:

  • Outcomes of the first n – 1 primaries
  • Number of candidates running for a particular party’s nomination

Where to start? In what order should the primary elections be held in order to create a primary election that is best representative of the voting-eligible population with primaries held early least affecting those held later?  Compare this with the outcomes of a nationwide one-day primary, where all states hold primaries on a single day.

Submit your findings in the form of a report to the Election Assistance Commission.

The following references may help you get started:

Election Assistance Commi

United States Census Bureau

Author: Dr. Neil R. Nicholson, North Central College