Results of the Colorado Caucuses February 4, 2008 - History

Results of the Colorado Caucuses February 4, 2008 - History

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Live Coverage: Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri

Republicans today are holding caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri. Mitt Romney is hoping to hold off the other Republican candidates and continue his two-state winning streak. We’ll be bringing you data-driven analysis, historical perspective and results as they become available.

1:13 A.M. Low Enthusiasm Costs Romney in Colorado

We have repeatedly noted the pattern in which Mr. Romney’s stronger states and counties have been associated with lower Republican turnout.

So far, it was not clear that this had lost Mr. Romney a state — save perhaps Iowa, when virtually anything might have altered the result.

But in Colorado, where the demographics were reasonably favorable to Mr. Romney — he won 60 percent of the vote there in 2008 — it may have made the difference. Mr. Romney’s stronger areas in the state were associated with turnout declines of about 20 percent. But turnout was steady or slightly up in places where Rick Santorum did well.

Among other problems for Mr. Romney, this suggests that suggests that the caucus states could be problematic rather than advantageous to Mr. Romney, with his superior organization being outmatched by very conservative voters who have low levels of enthusiasm for him.

0:55 A.M. Romney Wins Jefferson County, But Not By Much

Jefferson County ( View on Map) , just to the West of Denver, just reported its results, and although Mr. Romney won the county, it was by a slim 208 votes.

With Santorum-friendly El Paso County still outstanding, Mr. Romney’s Jefferson result might not be enough to carry him to a statewide win.

0:51 A.M. Romney Also Loses Mesa County

The other swing county that we told you to watch in Colorado, Mesa County, has broken against Mr. Romney. Rick Santorum took 47 percent of the vote there, to Mr. Romney’s 36 percent.

Although Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum are virtually tied in network counts in Colorado right now, those figures do not include El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, where the Denver Post reported that Mr. Santroum netted about 1,700 votes.

Meanwhile, most of the remaining areas that have yet to report are rural and look slightly unfavorable on balance for Mr. Romney.

0:47 A.M. Santorum Wins Pueblo County

We advised you just a moment ago to watch the results in Pueblo County, and they have now been revealed. Rick Santorum took 44 percent of the vote there to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, a big decline from Mr. Romney’s 62 percent of the vote in 2008.

Turnout in the country was 1,256 votes, up slightly from 1,225 in 2008. We have seen a pattern tonight in which turnout is reasonably steady in areas that Mr. Romney loses, but has trended downward in counties that he won.

0:45 A.M. Watch Mesa County and Pueblo

Two counties that could prove decisive in Colorado are Pueblo County in central Colorado ( View on Map) and Mesa County ( View on Map) along the state’s western border with Utah — they have yet to report any results.

Mr. Romney performed well in Pueblo County in 2008, winning 62 percent of the vote. But he saw a significant decline this year in surrounding counties.

Mr. Romney took 67 percent of the vote in 2008 in Mesa County, home to Grand Junction. The county’s border with Utah means that it has a larger Mormon population. But we have seen very few results so from counties that border Utah, so it is hard to anticipate how well Mr. Romney’s numbers will hold up there.

0:29 A.M. Romney Wins Denver

Mitt Romney got a decent result in Denver County ( View on Map), taking 40 percent of the vote there to Rick Santorum’s 29 percent.

However, as was also the case in the Denver suburbs, turnout was down from 2008 — 3,249 votes tonight versus 4,071 four years ago — somewhat blunting the impact.

Mr. Romney now leads in CNN’s vote count in Colorado, 37 percent to 35 percent.

However, the balance of the precincts yet to report in Colorado look slightly unfavorable to Mr. Romney. CNN’s total does not include Colorado Springs, where Mr. Romney lost badly based on an account from the Denver Post. Meanwhile, most of the vote from Denver and its suburbs is accounted for.

0:24 A.M. Colorado Springs Puts Romney in Hole in Colo.

According to Jeremy Meyer of the Denver Post, Mitt Romney is losing badly to Rick Santorum in El Paso County ( View on Map), home to Colorado Springs, trailing him by about 1,700 votes with 193 of 199 precincts reporting.

This could make Mr. Romney’s math very difficult in Colorado. He won 59 percent of the vote in El Paso County in 2008, close to his statewide total. Although the area has a large number of evangelical voters, it is closer to being a swing region than other parts of the state in the context of a Republican caucus.

0:12 A.M. Romney Tracking to 35 Percent of Vote in Colorado

Here is a chart comparing how Mitt Romney performed in each county in Colorado in 2008 as compared to tonight.

Although there has been some variance from county to county, especially in smaller areas with more idiosyncratic demographics, in general Mr. Romney is getting about 60 percent as much of the vote as he did in 2008.

That would put him on track for about 35 percent of the vote statewide, which would make tonight’s result quite close.

It should be noted, however, that this method does not count for changes in turnout between 2008 and 2012. If we continue to observe a pattern wherein turnout is steady in Mr. Romney’s weakest areas but poor in his stronger ones, that could put him under 35 percent of the vote, at which point it looks like he would lose to Rick Santorum.

11:47 P.M. Colo. Turnout Up in Romney’s Weakest Areas

Here’s why Mitt Romney is vulnerable to a loss in Colorado tonight. Although indications are that turnout is down in the Denver suburbs, where Mr. Romney runs strongly, the same is not true in outlying areas of the state, where he is losing by a wide margin to Rick Santorum.

Some 16 counties outside of the Denver area had reported all of their results as of 11:40 P.M. In total, there were 1,512 votes in those counties, up slightly from 1,480 in 2008.

11:36 P.M. Turnout: Adams County

As we noted, the vote shares in Adams County ( View on Map) are not encouraging for Romney supporters. But another point that stands out in the county’s results are the overall vote totals.

In 2008, 3,359 Republicans caucused in Adams County. Just 2,518 people came out this year, a 25 percent drop. That disparity may not prevail through the rest of Colorado’s counties. But if it does, Colorado would follow every other state that has voted except South Carolina in seeing a depressed Republican turnout compared to 2008.

11:26 P.M. Trouble for Romney in Adams County, Colo.

In the first two counties to report from metropolitan Denver, Mr. Romney was performing well enough that he appeared to be the favorite to win Colorado, even though his vote totals were down significantly from 2008.

But the result from Adams County — which unlike the others, has reported all of its vote — is potentially much more problematic for him. Mr. Romney won just 31 percent of the vote there, down from 67 percent in 2008.

If Mr. Romney encounters more results like that, he might be tracking more toward 30 or 35 percent of the vote in Colorado rather than 40 percent, making him much more vulnerable to a loss.

11:20 P.M. Missouri Beauty Contest Turns Off Voters

With almost all of the votes counted in Missouri’s primary tonight, turnout is tracking to about 250,000 votes.

About 590,000 Republicans voted in the Missouri primary in 2008, when the primary there counted toward delegate selection.

Incidentally, although Republicans have had disappointing turnout in some other states, I don’t think that this one is in the same vein. It likely reflects the diminished importance that voters are placing on a purely symbolic contest, rather than anything more fundamental.

11:06 P.M. Romney’s County Problem

Based on the results reported as of 11 P.M., Mitt Romney was leading in no counties in either Minnesota or Missouri.

Indeed, Mr. Romney is doing quite poorly to date in the Republican race outside of wealthy urban counties, a pattern that, in general elections, is more characteristic of Democrats.

Among the five states to have voted before tonight, plus the in-progress results from Minnesota and Missouri, Mr. Romney has won only 73 counties from among the 412 to have reported results in the Republican nomination race so far, giving him an 18 percent success rate.

10:43 P.M. Reader Comment: Romney’s Strategy

A FiveThirtyEight reader, Matthew H., stepped into the shoes of a Romney campaign strategist, and made this prediction:

For the next few primaries (Arizona, Michigan and Super Tuesday), Romney is going to take no chances on relaxing his attack. And he is going to spend lots of money to advertise. I guess Romney figured that these contests were relatively low-profile and low-impact, and that even if he slipped a little, it wouldn’t matter. But he isn’t just slipping a little, he is getting his entire narrative of “nevability” taken apart in three geographically diverse, and important states…two of which he won in 2008.

So I expect the next few weeks to see strong negative attacks on Santorum, and Gingrich, across Arizona, Michigan and many of the Super Tuesday states𠉪nd since it cost over 10 million to advertise in Florida for a week, how much money and goodwill is Romney going to have to spend to get back to “inevability” in Michigan and Ohio?

If that prediction holds true, the Romney campaign will have plenty of time before the next contests to hammer away at its rivals. Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries on Feb. 28.

10:45 P.M. Romney Holding Serve in Denver Suburbs

The first results from the Denver metropolitan area are in and they should come as a relief to Mitt Romney. He has 49 percent of the vote in Douglas County so far and 53 percent in Arapahoe County.

In both cases, Mr. Romney’s numbers are down from in 2008, when he won 72 percent in Douglas County and 66 percent in Arapahoe — but not catastrophically so given how wide Mr. Romney’s margin was in Colorado that year.

If Mr. Romney gets those sort of numbers elsewhere in the Denver area, he should have a lot of cushion to do poorly elsewhere.

One important thing to watch is whether Rick Santroum is finishing second in these areas, or instead falling behind Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. My back-of-the-envelope guess is that Mr. Romney is on track for something like 40 percent of the vote statewide or maybe just a bit shy of that. That could be enough for him to lose if most of the remaining votes are going for Mr. Santorum, but not if they are divided between several other opponents.

10:26 P.M. Viability vs. Momentum

Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner has a good article reminding us that momentum has been very weak so far in this nomination cycle. (We have written on the same theme before.)

Mitt Romney’s big wins in Nevada and Florida did not seem to do him much good tonight.

The flip side is that momentum from Rick Santorum’s wins in Missouri and Minnesota could evaporate by the time that Arizona and Michigan vote on Feb. 28.

But the dynamics here are different in one important respect. If Mr. Romney is having a poor night, Newt Gingrich is having an even worse one — he was not even on the ballot in Missouri and he is running in dead last in Minnesota.

Most polls of Republican voters have shown Mr. Santorum with stronger favorability ratings than Mr. Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich was doing slightly better in national polls, and in most of the recent states. But this may have been because voters thought that Mr. Gingrich was more viable than Mr. Santorum, even if they liked Mr. Santorum better.

Tonight could reverse that perception and put Mr. Gingrich in a dire position, possibly to Mr. Santorum’s benefit. And those gains — which would reflect rational and strategic behavior on the part of Republican voters rather than whimsical shifts based on momentum — could possibly be longer lasting.

10:14 P.M. Santorum Dominant in Missouri

It should be remembered that no delegates will be awarded to the winner of the primary in Missouri, which will instead hold caucuses in March. And Rick Santorum made more of an effort to win the state than the other candidates.

Still, it is harder to write the result off as a fluke given Mr. Santorum’s margin of victory there — and his geographic dominance. Mr. Romney held leads early on in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, but has since lost them as more votes have been counted. In fact, Mr. Romney leads in just one Missouri county right now, Boone County, where only two precincts have reported results.

10:12 P.M. Hennepin County Spells Trouble for Romney

To the growing list of troubling signs for Mr. Romney in Minnesota, add this: he’s currently in third place in Hennepin County ( View on Map) . It’s still early, but this is a county where Mr. Romney should have expected to do well based on history and demographics.

Hennepin County includes Minneapolis, but it is mostly suburbs, an area dominated by more affluent, better-educated Republicans. Mr. Romney won 46 percent of the vote there in 2008.

With about a fifth of precincts reporting, Mr. Santorum leads in Hennepin County with 35 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Paul with 29 percent. Although things could shift, Mr. Romney is on track to receive about half of his 2008 vote share there.

9:55 P.M. Too Soon for Romney to Panic in Colorado

Results so far in Colorado have been disappointing for Mitt Romney. He has only 19 percent of the vote from the six counties that have reported results so far.

However, these rural counties are among Mr. Romney’s weaker areas in the state. In the six counties combined, he won just 36 percent of the vote in 2008 — considerably less than the 60 percent he took statewide. Mr. Romney should have plenty of opportunity to make up ground in Denver and its wealthy suburbs, where he ran very strongly in 2008.

This is not to suggest that Mr. Romney is assured of victory in Colorado. His vote share has fallen by about half in these rural counties. If it were also to fall that much in Denver and its suburbs, he would be tracking to about 30 percent of the vote statewide, possibly low enough for him to lose to Mr. Santorum. But it’s premature to make any assumptions about how the suburban counties will behave until we see some of their results.

9:42 P.M. Paul Strong in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Ron Paul is leading the vote count so far in both Hennepin County and Ramsay County, home to Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively — and to large numbers of college students. Mr. Paul looks to have decent chances of finishing ahead of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in Minnesota, where Rick Santorum has a lead so far.

Hennepin and Ramsey Counties are slightly ahead of the statewide pace, having reported 10 percent of their results versus 7 percent elsewhere.

9:25 P.M. Turnout Benchmarks from 2008

In addition to who wins, places and shows, one thing political observers will be paying attention to tonight is turnout. In almost all of the states that have voted so far, Republicans have gone to the polls in smaller numbers than they did in 2008, and the better Mitt Romney has done the lower turnout has been.

Poor turnout could mean that voters are less enchanted by this year’s crop of candidates. Although, that could always change. In addition, a depressed primary turnout does not guarantee that Republicans will not turn out in November.

Here are the turnout numbers for Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri from 2008 (delegates were actually at stake in Missouri’s 2008 primary, while this year’s primary is non-binding, so the comparison isn’t really fair):

9:28 P.M. Santorum Leads in K.C. Suburbs

Here’s a very good sign for Rick Santorum in Missouri. He leads Mitt Romney in two suburban counties just east of Kansas City — Jackson County and Clay County — both of which Mr. Romney won in 2008.

Mr. Santorum’s lead in Jackson County is slight, 38 percent to 35 percent. But he leads by 27 percent in Clay County, which has counted a much higher fraction of its votes.

So far, Mr. Romney has shown strength only in St. Louis and its suburbs, which is not likely to be enough to allow him to win the state.

9:22 P.M. How Safe Is Romney in Colorado?

It’s still very early, but Mitt Romney is having a poor night in Minnesota so far. He’s losing in each of the seven counties that have reported caucus results and is in third place in many of them, putting him about 28 points behind Rick Santorum statewide.

Mr. Romney is also struggling in Missouri so far, although it’s harder to extrapolate the results in that state because of its stark urban-rural divide.

Still, based on the results we have so far, it appears as though Mr. Santorum could beat his polling by a decent margin in both Minnesota and Missouri. Polling errors are often strongly correlated when states vote on the same night, and if Mr. Santorum did the same thing in Colorado — where he trailed Mr. Romney by 10 points in the Public Policy Polling survey there — he could go three-for-three tonight.

9:01 P.M. Intrade Confident of Santorum Win in Minnesota

Although only four counties have reported portions of their results so far in Minnesota, they represent fairly diverse cross-section of the state geographically and demographically, and Rick Santorum is winning each of them so far.

The betting market Intrade now gives Mr. Santorum a 96 percent chance of winning Minnesota, up from about 80 percent before the vote-counting began.

8:44 P.M. Missouri’s Urban-Rural Divide

If there’s one state to be careful about making extrapolations from early vote counts, it’s Missouri, where St. Louis, Kansas City and their surrounding suburbs vote much differently than the rest of the state.

In 2008, Mitt Romney and John McCain won almost all of these urban and suburban counties, while Mike Huckabee won almost all of the rural ones.

So far, the pattern seems to be holding again. Mr. Romney leads Rick Santorum 44 percent to 27 percent in votes counted in St. Louis County and St. Louis City so far. But Mr. Santorum has a lead of about 15 to 20 points among votes counted elsewhere in the state.

8:37 P.M. Sweet Home Chisago

Although it’s a little early to make much of the results from Minnesota, where barely more than 100 votes have been reported so far, the largest stash of ballots is from Chisago County, north of Minneapolis, where about 20 percent of precincts have reported.

Rick Santorum leads there with 53 percent of the vote so far, a bad sign for Mitt Romney, who won the county with 48 percent of the vote in 2008.

8:32 P.M. A Vote for No One is a Vote for Newt

Although Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot in Missouri’s �uty contest” primary, voters do have the option of voting for an “uncommitted” ballot line. Once more common in primaries and caucuses — uncommitted “won” the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 1972 and 1976 — the uncommitted option has become more rare in recent years.

With about 1 percent of precincts reporting, around 7 percent of voters in Missouri have gone for uncommitted so far, according to the Secretary of State’s count there.

8:20 P.M. Coke or Pepsi, Primary or Caucus

As the Republican nominating process moves from state to state, one of the first things we do here at FiveThirtyEight is look at the state’s electoral history to help shed light on the current contest. But in the three states voting tonight, the historical record is thinner.

The reason: all three states have switched between caucuses and primaries.

Colorado — In the 1988 Democratic caucuses, Jesse Jackson was neck-and-neck with the front-runner, Michael Dukakis. As the results were compiled over the next several hours, Mr. Jackson accused the chairman of Colorado’s Democratic Party of deliberately counting the votes slowly so Mr. Jackson’s apparent success would not affect Wisconsin, which voted the day after Colorado (Mr. Dukakis ended up losing the state).

Largely in response to that fiasco, Colorado adopted a primary in 1992 and continued in this vain through 2000 (the only really competitive primary was the 1992 Democratic race. Jerry Brown barely edged out Bill Clinton, 29 percent to 27 percent). In 2004, the state went back to holding caucuses.

Minnesota — The Land of 10,000 Lakes usually holds a caucus, but for whatever reason, every 40 or so years they decide to hold a primary. The state held primaries in 1916, 1952, 1956 and 1992. Oddly enough, a tight Bill Clinton-Jerry Brown race rears its head here, too. In Minnesota’s last primary, Bill Clinton topped Jerry Brown by 0.5 percent, 31.1 to 30.6.

Missouri — The state held its first primary in 1988, then held caucuses in 1992 and 1996. In 2000, it was back to primaries. Missouri managed to stick with primaries through 2008. This year, well, the state is holding both a caucus and a primary.

8:18 P.M. Colorado v. Nevada

Nevada’s Republican caucuses on Saturday received poor reviews from local and national political reporters — including yours truly — who criticized the low turnout, the state’s slowness to count the vote and start times that varied across the state and contributed to the confusion.

One state that might have aspirations of taking Nevada’s place on the early-voting calender is Colorado, which holds its caucuses tonight.

Colorado could improve its argument if it gets a higher turnout than Nevada, where 32,963 people voted on Saturday.

However, Colorado has a larger population than Nevada and roughly twice as many registered Republicans — about 800,000 versus 400,000 (if you count “inactive” Republicans too, Colorado has just over a million registered Republicans). For it to do as well as Nevada proportionately, it would need about 65,000 people to turn out tonight.

Slightly more than 70,000 Republicans voted in Colorado, so it could be a close call — although wintry weather in parts of the state could dampen turnout.

7:51 P.M. Candidates Spending Most Time in States Can Beat Polls

As we mentioned a moment ago, Rick Santorum has spent considerably more time in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri than his Republican rivals. He had also been very active in Iowa, something that may have helped him to close strongly there.

But is there systematic evidence that candidates who more time in a state tend to beat their polls?

I looked at the results through the first five early voting states this year, comparing a candidate’s actual percentage of the vote versus their polling-based forecast. I then added another variable which represented the share of appearances that the candidate had made in the state in the last 30 days of the campaign, according to the Washington Post’s candidate tracker.

There is some modest evidence for the theory that candidate appearances can help a candidate to beat his polls. The coefficient for the appearances variable is positive and verges on being statistically significant. Candidates who spent more time in a state tend to get the benefit of the doubt on election night, perhaps giving them an advantage of 2 to 4 percentage points above and beyond any benefit that is already reflected in the polls. The effect isn’t huge, but I’m inclined to think there is something there — I’ve also found this variable to be useful when conducting such analyses in the past, such as on the 2008 Democratic primaries.

The most recent example is Ron Paul, who made more appearances in Nevada than the other candidates and who beat his polling forecast by about 4 points there. Meanwhile, candidates who pull out of a state early in an effort to lower expectations an sometimes take some additional punishment from voters.

7:33 P.M. Santorum’s Nose to the Grindstone

If primaries and caucuses are won and lost based on how much time candidates spend on the ground meeting voters, then Rick Santorum should be in for a good night.

According to the Washington Post’s primary tracker, Mr. Santorum has made 22 appearances in the last 30 days between Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. He also held the lead in visits in each individual state.

Ron Paul made seven visits among the three states, while Mitt Romney made three and Newt Gingrich just two.

Romney leads as GOP race turns to Colorado, Minnesota

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Current leadership and members


See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries
State legislators
SalaryPer diem
$40,242/year for legislators whose terms commence in or after January 2019 $30,000/year for those whose terms began before January 2019.For legislators residing within 50 miles of the capitol: $45/day. For legislators living more than 50 miles from the capitol: $219/day. Set by the legislature. Vouchered.

Swearing in dates

Colorado legislators assume office on the first day of the first legislative session following the election.

Membership qualifications

No person shall be a representative or senator who shall not have attained the age of twenty-five years, who shall not be a citizen of the United States, who shall not for at least twelve months next preceding his election, have resided within the territory included in the limits of the county or district in which he shall be chosen provided, that any person who at the time of the adoption of this constitution, was a qualified elector under the territorial laws, shall be eligible to the first general assembly. ΐ]

The campaign

Clinton had won his first term in 1992 against incumbent Republican George Bush with only 43 percent of the vote, as independent Ross Perot had won nearly 19 percent. Two years into Clinton’s term the Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s, and many pundits believed that Clinton, whose public support had dwindled because of some early missteps—particularly on health care and on his proposal for allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military (the “ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise was eventually secured)—would be a one-term president.

However, the Republicans in Congress, led by House speaker Newt Gingrich, often pursued policies in an uncompromising and confrontational manner. In particular, after a budget impasse between the Republicans and Clinton in 1995 and 1996—which forced two partial government shutdowns, including one for 22 days (the longest closure of government operations up to that time, it was surpassed by a 34-day shutdown in 2018–19)—Clinton won considerable public support for his more moderate approach.

Colorado caucus

In August 2015, the Colorado GOP cancelled its presidential preference poll, which was scheduled to coincide with the Republican caucuses on March 1, 2016. According to The Denver Post, the Republican executive committee "voted to cancel the traditional presidential preference poll after the national party changed its rules to require a state's delegates to support the candidate that wins the caucus vote." Colorado Republicans still sent delegates to the Republican National Convention in July 2016. District-level and at-large delegates (34) were bound according to the preferred candidates indicated on their intent-to-run forms. RNC delegates (3) were unbound, meaning that they did not have to pledge their support to a given candidate. ΐ] Though Republican precinct caucuses were held on March 1 in Colorado, Colorado Republican National Convention delegates were chosen at district conventions and the Colorado state GOP convention in April. Α] Colorado Republican Party rules required participants in the district conventions and statewide convention to have participated in the precinct caucuses. Β]

First U.S. presidential election

Congress sets January 7, 1789 as the date by which states are required to choose electors for the country&aposs first-ever presidential election. A month later, on February 4, George Washington was elected president by state electors and sworn into office on April 30, 1789.

As it did in 1789, the United States still uses the Electoral College system, established by the U.S. Constitution, which today gives all American citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president. The president and vice president are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote.

Today political parties usually nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions or by a vote of the party’s central state committee, with party loyalists often being picked for the job. Members of the U.S. Congress, though, can’t be electors. Each state is allowed to choose as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress. During a presidential election year, on Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November), the electors from the party that gets the most popular votes are elected in a winner-take-all-system, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which allocate electors proportionally. In order to win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538.

On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a presidential election year, each state’s electors meet, usually in their state capitol, and simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide. This is largely ceremonial: Because electors nearly always vote with their party, presidential elections are essentially decided on Election Day. Although electors aren’t constitutionally mandated to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state, it is demanded by tradition and required by law in 26 states and the District of Columbia (in some states, violating this rule is punishable by $1,000 fine). Historically, over 99 percent of all electors have cast their ballots in line with the voters. On January 6, as a formality, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and on January 20, the commander in chief is sworn into office.

Everything you need to know about how the presidential primary works

The 2016 presidential nomination process is still in the invisible primary stage. On the Republican side, the field of candidates is not set, we don’t yet know how much money candidates have raised or can raise, there are no endorsements of real significance of which to speak, and polling doesn’t really tell us much at this point.

But it is a good time to review the important features of the formal presidential nomination process and the changes the national parties have made for the 2016 cycle.

How do the Democratic and Republican parties formally select their presidential nominees?

After the 1968 election, the McGovern-Fraser Commission ushered in the modern presidential nomination process by removing the nominating decision from the smoke-filled rooms of the parties’ conventions. The Commission sought to make the results of primaries and caucuses — and thus the votes of the rank-and-file party voters — more decisive.

To accomplish that, the Commission created a direct link between the votes cast in primaries and caucuses and the delegates selected to attend the national convention. The results of the primaries and caucuses therefore bind convention delegates to particular candidates. At the convention, there is a roll call vote that formally nominates a presidential candidate.

What’s the difference between a primary and a caucus?

The main difference between a primary election and a caucus is who is running the show. State governments conduct primaries, but state parties are behind caucuses. Each has different goals.

State governments fund and run primary elections in much the same way they do the general election in the fall. Voters go to a polling place, vote, and leave. The primary election was a Progressive-era reform intended to reduce the potential for mischief in a nomination system controlled by the parties.

State parties have other goals in holding caucuses (as well as state party conventions): not only voting for a presidential nominee, but also party business like selecting delegates to move on to county or district conventions, prioritizing issues that should or would be in the state or national party platform, and selecting local party leaders for the local party apparatus.

Party business takes time and requires participants to show up for an hours-long meeting on a weeknight. Unsurprisingly, then, caucuses attract fewer voters than primaries, and these voters tend to be politically engaged and stronger ideologues.

Why do some states have primaries but others have caucuses?

There are a number of reasons, but most of them come back to the trade-offs between state governments or state parties conducting the process in the first place. Ultimately, nominating a candidate for any office is a party function. Yet, a growing number of states have moved away from caucuses and adopted primaries. The simple reason is that the state pays for it.

Opting into the state-run primary, however, means opting into the state laws that govern the primary process. Most consequentially, this includes the date of the primary and who can participate in that election. A state party that prefers another date — perhaps an earlier and potentially more influential date — would have to hold a caucus on its own dime. This is part of what drove Idaho Republicans to hold a caucus during the 2012 cycle instead of a primary, which would have occurred relatively late — in May.

State primary laws also affect which voters can participate. In a “closed” primary, only registered party voters can participate. In an “open” primary, unaffiliated voters can participate. There are other variants in between.

If a party in an open primary state wants only party members to vote, it may opt for a caucus instead, where the party will have more control over who can participate. This is at least part of the reason Democrats in Washington State have spurned the primary since it first became available in 1992.

Still, around three-quarters of state parties now choose the state-funded primary option even if it means ceding some control over the process to the state government.

When are the first caucuses and primaries held?

If states abide by the rules that the national parties have set for 2016, the four so-called carve-out states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — will all hold their respective primaries and caucuses in February.

Roughly, the expected calendar for Republicans is:

  • February 1: Iowa
  • February 9: New Hampshire
  • February 20: South Carolina
  • February 23: Nevada
  • February 1: Iowa
  • February 9: New Hampshire
  • February 23: Nevada
  • February 27: South Carolina

The remaining states will follow in March, April, May, and early June. (More on this below.)

Why do Iowa and New Hampshire get to go first? Is this problematic?

The easiest answer is that Iowa and New Hampshire go first because it’s tradition. The New Hampshire primary dates back to the Progressive era a century ago, when presidential nominations were not directly based on the results of primaries. When the nomination system changed after 1968, New Hampshire proactively began to adapt to safeguard the position of its presidential primary at the beginning of the queue. This entailed passing a state law requiring the primary in the Granite state be before any other “similar contest,” but more importantly yielded control over the date-setting decision to the secretary of state. That part of the law has allowed New Hampshire to move its primary as needed to ensure it’s the first primary on the calendar.

The Iowa caucus goes first by accident, not by design. Due to the primary reforms after 1968, Iowa Democrats had to change their delegate selection and allocation process. A proposed June state convention in Des Moines was impossible because there were not enough hotel rooms available to state convention delegates. That pushed the state convention back and, with it, the earlier steps in the caucus-plus-convention process. So the Iowa caucus ended up ahead of the New Hampshire primary. That was of little consequence in 1972, but in 1976 when Iowa was instrumental in catapulting Jimmy Carter into the top tier of contenders for the Democratic nomination, the value of being first was made clear.

Of course, that is the story from the perspective of the states. The national parties have some control over the overall process, and having two small, homogenous states go first has always raised questions within the national parties if not among Americans overall. The desire to introduce racial and regional diversity is part of what prompted the Democratic National Committee to put Nevada and South Carolina early on the calendar for 2008. Nevada added more Western and Hispanic voters while South Carolina added more Southern and African American voters.

Still, even these four states are comparatively small in terms of population, which may still raise questions about their representativeness. So why start with these four?

One reason is that both national parties place some value in what the Republican Growth and Opportunity Project Report — the post-2012 autopsy — referred to as the “on-ramp.” Both the Democratic and Republican National Committees prefer a nomination process that builds slowly and incrementally. Having a group of smaller states positioned first provides a more equal footing for potential candidates as they make their cases to voters.

The alternative — starting the process in a larger state or a large group of states — is perceived as giving advantage to the best-funded candidate(s), who may or may not be the “best” candidate. The parties like the retail politics that smaller states can provide, rather than the ad war that might result in larger states.

So why not start the process in some other small states besides Iowa and New Hampshire? Ultimately, the national parties, and the candidates themselves, prefer certainty to uncertainty. After numerous elections, the national parties and the campaigns are more certain than not about what Iowa and New Hampshire bring to the table and how each tends to operate.

Is this year’s start earlier or later than usual? And why?

Not since 1996 has Iowa held its caucus in February. Typically, the national parties have wanted to complete the nomination process quickly so that they can focus on the general election. For example, in 2004 the Democratic National Committee first allowed states other than Iowa and New Hampshire to hold their primaries or caucuses in February. (The Republicans had already done so in 1996.) Democrats wanted to settle on a nominee quickly so that the party could focus on defeating George W. Bush.

But allowing various states to conduct primaries or caucuses in February led Iowa and New Hampshire to move their contests earlier. That translated into a January start to primary season beginning in 2000.

Since then, a few states have pushed their primaries and caucuses into January as well, even though this was against national party rules. For example, Florida moved into late January in both 2008 and 2012, forcing Iowa and New Hampshire to the beginning of the new year.

This tendency to “frontload” violated the spirit of the unwritten (to that point) “on-ramp” principle cited above. So after 2008, both parties informally agreed that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would hold their primaries and caucuses in February and all other states would fall between March and early June. States that failed to do so would lose some of their delegates at the national convention.

That was easier said than done. In 2012, the RNC failed to increase the penalty on states that violated this rule. In turn, states like Florida gambled just as they had in 2008. Essentially, these rogue states calculated that they would be more influential holding their primary or caucus earlier, even if it cost them delegates to the national convention. That pushed Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada back into January and meant that there were relatively few contests in the middle of February.

So, for 2016, the parties (in particular the Republicans) increased the penalties for frontloading. The Republicans have the same objective for 2016 Democrats had in 2004: quickly resolve the nomination, curb party infighting, and get to a general election footing that shifts the focus to the Democratic nominee.

The difference in 2016 is that both parties desire a slightly later start (February instead of January), and some states have become more pragmatic about their calendar positioning. States are still crowding at the beginning, but some states believe that frontloading means that their primaries and caucuses get lost amid so many other contests.

All of this fiddling with the timing of primaries shows that the national parties are seeking a set of rules that will produce a candidate well-positioned to win the White House in the fall election. Often, though, that goal has them fighting the last battle — that is, amending the rules to address whatever was perceived to have hurt the party in the previous cycle.

How long do the primaries last?

There will be primaries and caucuses from February to early June 2016. But the nominees will likely be known well before the primaries are over. The earlier contests will winnow the field of candidates enough that a candidate is very likely to claim enough delegates to clinch the nomination prior to the final contest.

This is true even in a year as wide open as 2016 appears to be on the Republican side. Despite all the talk of multiple “lanes to the nomination,” the presidential nomination process has tended to produce essentially two leading candidates, a frontrunner and an alternative to the frontrunner. These candidates will emerge in the invisible primary or certainly after the first few contests.

The other candidates will withdraw when they cannot win primaries or caucuses or continue winning them. Not winning makes it more difficult to garner support from both voters and donors, especially since these underdog candidates will appear to be prolonging the inevitable or worse, hurting the likely nominee. This is what led Rick Santorum to suspend his campaign after the first April 2012 primaries even though Mitt Romney was only a little more than halfway to the 1144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

The last two cycles — 2008 and 2012 — have shown that the leader in the Republican delegate count at the point when 50 percent of delegates have been allocated has been able to clinch the nomination around the point when 75 percent of the delegates have been allocated. Although the process could easily resolve itself before that 75 percent threshold is met due to winnowing, this 50-75 percent rule is a reasonable approximation of when a candidate will clinch.

On the likely primary calendar for 2016, March 8 would be the 50 percent point and April 26 would be the 75 percent marker. With that as a guide, we can work backward to an earlier point on the calendar when one candidate will be the remaining viable candidate still in the race.

How does how many votes a candidate gets in a state’s primary or caucus translate into how many of that states’ delegates are pledged to them?

On the Democratic side, the national party mandates a proportional allocation of the delegates apportioned to each state. The majority of states, in turn, utilize the results of their primaries or caucuses at both the statewide and congressional district level to allocate and bind those delegates to the candidates who clear a threshold of the vote — which can be set no higher than 15 percent — in those political units. If Hillary Clinton wins 60 percent of the vote statewide in the South Carolina primary, she would receive around 60 percent of the at-large and pledged party leader delegates. If she wins 60 percent of the vote in one of South Carolina’s congressional districts, she would receive around 60 percent of the delegates apportioned to that district.

The Republican National Committee is taking a similar approach for the states with primaries and caucuses that fall in the so-called “proportionality window,” defined as the first two weeks of March for 2016. The only difference is that the RNC allows the threshold for receiving any delegates to be set as high as 20 percent either statewide or in congressional districts.

The RNC also allows a state party to institute a threshold for a candidate to receive all of the at-large and bonus delegates. In those states that set such thresholds, if a candidate wins a majority of the vote statewide or in a congressional district, that candidate would be eligible to be allocated all of the delegates apportioned to that political unit.

After March 14, state parties in the Republican process have the freedom to set their delegate allocation rules as they see fit. States can institute a proportional rule, a winner-take-all rule, or some hybrid. The differences between proportional and hybrid plans are typically so subtle that they do not affect the delegate count.

If states with contests after March 14 adopt a winner-take-all rule, that could create a de facto nominee sooner. However, in 2012, there was no such rush to winner-take-all rules among states with contests after the proportionality window.

Have these rules about delegate allocation changed since 2012?

The Republican National Committee, after introducing the proportionality requirement for the first time in 2012, sought to tweak its allocation formula for 2016. The party shrunk the proportionality window from all of March to just the first half of March. That seemingly reduces the impact of the proportionality requirement — in other words, it speeds the process up.

However, the RNC also tightened its definition of proportionality, closing some of the loopholes that allowed state parties to proportionally allocate only a fraction of their apportioned delegates while still complying with the requirement. Republican state parties are in the midst of examining their delegate allocation rules now, and this will continue into the late summer.

Why did the GOP change its rules?

The RNC believed the 2012 nomination process went on too long and hurt Mitt Romney in the general election. The party blamed the fact — noted above — that it didn’t effectively penalize states that held primaries or caucuses too early.

So there is a new and more severe super penalty that reduces a state delegation for the majority of states to just 12 total delegates. That affects larger states more than smaller states. Going rogue in 2016 would mean that a state like Florida — with nearly 100 total delegates — would lose almost 90 percent of its delegates.

The RNC also concluded that the proportionality window had also contributed to the slower nomination process in 2012. This reflects a misperception: state-level allocation rules were not any more proportional in 2012 than they had been in 2008.

What was different was the calendar. Big states like California and Texas were at the end of the calendar in 2012, but had been much earlier in 2008. And in 2012, states were more evenly distributed throughout the calendar, and thereby less front-loaded. It was actually this change, not the proportionality window, that drove the slower pace of the nomination.

Is there any reason to believe that the Republican National Convention could elect a different nominee than the one who won the most delegates throughout the primaries?

Honestly, no. The process has winnowing built into it and has successfully narrowed the fields of Republican candidates throughout the post-reform era. It very likely will again even in this wide open Republican nomination race. For all the talk of a brokered Republican convention in 2012, the process winnowed the field to just Mitt Romney by early April.

Some are drawing comparisons between the splits in the Republican Party in 2016 and 1976, the latter of which was when the Republican nomination was last unsettled heading into the convention. Intentionally or not, that has led to chatter about the possibility of a brokered convention in 2016.

One important fact that keeps getting left out is that 1976 was the first year in which the Republican Party operated under the new “binding” rules that the Democratic Party had basically dragged them into. (State laws were changed by Democrats to bind delegates to candidates based on the results of primaries, but that affected the Republican process too.) The national parties have adapted to the new system in the time since 1976. It is not new anymore.

The national parties are also more sophisticated. For 2016, the RNC has also changed its rules to discourage some of the attempted mischief from 2012. There are no more non-binding caucuses. The delegations of all states will be bound to candidates based on the results of the primaries or caucuses. The national party also raised from five to eight the number of delegations a candidate must control (have won) to place that candidate’s name in nomination. Furthermore, attempts to vote against the binding placed on a delegate will essentially be ignored by the national convention and recorded as reflected by the results of the primary or caucuses.

A brokered convention would be interesting, but it’s not likely. It’s just one of those things — like an Electoral College tie — that commentators are seemingly obligated to talk about every presidential election year.

Josh Putnam is a visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Appalachian State University and the author of the Frontloading HQ blog.

The Process

Voting in a primary or caucus

At a caucus, members of a political party meet in person at an appointed time and location to discuss the candidates and debate their merits. The voting for candidates happens either by raising hands or by separating into groups, with the votes being counted manually by counting the number of supporters of each candidate.

In contrast, a primary is much like a regular election i.e. depending upon the type of primary, those eligible to vote cast a secret ballot.

The caucus system was the original way in which political parties chose candidates. However, people began to feel that the secret ballot was a fairer, more democratic system so in the beginning of the 20th century, states began to move to the primary system.


At the heart of the electoral process is the system of delegates. Each state has a certain number of delegates that represent the state at the National Convention of either political party (Democrat or Republican). It is at this event that the party's presidential nominee is chosen.

The delegates of each state are "awarded" to one of the presidential candidates and the candidate with the most number of delegates on his/her side wins the nomination. Some states use a winner-take-all approach and award all their delegates to the winner of the caucus or primary in that state. Some states award delegates in proportion to the percentage of votes the candidates receive.

In general, states decide whether to hold a primary or caucus and this decision applies to both parties. But in some cases (for example, Washington) there are variances between the process used by Republican and Democratic parties in the same state.

Another difference is that there are some delegates (called unpledged delegates in the Republican system and superdelegates in the Democratic system) who are not bound by the results of the caucus or primary in their state. They are free to vote for the candidate of their choosing.

Results of the Colorado Caucuses February 4, 2008 - History

Iowa was admitted to the union as the 29th state on Dec. 28, 1846. As a Midwestern state, Iowa forms a bridge between the forests of the east and the grasslands of the high prairie plains to the west. Its gently rolling landscape rises slowly as it extends westward from the Mississippi River, which forms its entire eastern border. The Missouri River and its tributary, the Big Sioux, form the western border, making Iowa the only U.S. state that has two parallel rivers defining its borders. Iowa is bounded by the states of Minnesota to the north, Wisconsin and Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, and Nebraska and South Dakota to the west. Des Moines, in the south-central part of the state, is the capital. The state name is derived from the Iowa Native American people who once inhabited the area.

Date of Statehood: December 28, 1846

Did you know? Clear Lake, Iowa, was the site of the infamous plane crash that killed the 1950s rock icons Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

Capital: Des Moines

Population: 3,046,355 (2010)

Size: 56,273 square miles

Nickname(s): Hawkeye State

Motto: Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain



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