Monday, September 16, 2013

Q Day 3: MA Presidential Candidates?

An anonymous commenter asks:
Why has Massachusetts produced so many presidential candidates? Is it attributable to specific characteristics of its state parties, or a historical fluke?
Let's see...we have party nominees in 2012, 2008, and 1988 (plus 1960); also, the 2012 winner was one of two runners-up in 2008, and there were runners-up also in 1980 and, sort of, in 1992. Yes, that seems like a lot. My inclination is to say that it's mostly just a fluke, although I suppose it's possible that there's some political culture explanation that might have some weight -- if there is, for example, a belief in some states but not others that a presidential run is risky in terms of future state-level electoral prospects.

I don't think that the MA advantage in the New Hampshire primary helps Massachusetts politicians win nominations. It is possible, however, that politicians believe that it does, and that pushes candidates towards running.

I don't recall anyone writing anything about this, so let's try something more systematic. Here are the Democratic nominees, working backwards to 1972, the first nomination contested after reform:


And to expand it with strong runners-up (that is, those who had a realistic chance of winning after, say, New Hampshire):

IL (NY); MA (NC); TN;  AR (MA?); MA (IL?, TN? MO?); MN (CO); GA (AZ, others); SD (MN, ME)

That's not counting Carter/Kennedy in 1980.

Here are the Republicans:


And expanded:

MA (PA?); AZ (MA, AR); TX (?); KS (?); TX (KS); CA (TX)

Which omits Ford/Reagan in 1976.

What can we take from all this?

First: that what Romney did is really rare -- the only comparable candidate to win, or even have a viable shot at a nomination, despite coming from a strong state for the other party was George McGovern. Of course, that's mainly because there just aren't very many Republican governors and Senators from Democratic states, and vice versa.

Second: big states generally do better. Remember, they don't have more eligible politicians, all things being equal; each state has two Senators and one governor at a time. Big state resources matter. Still, we have winners from Arizona, Kansas, and Arkansas after McGovern; eyeballing it, state size advantage looks modest.

Third: traditionally, parties liked to nominate people from big swing states, especially Ohio. That's almost completely gone after reform. I suppose the three Democratic picks from the South were all swing region selections, but there's nothing from Florida, nothing from Ohio, nothing from Pennsylvania.

I suspect it's just a fluke that the big swing states haven't had their turns, and one might count California in 1980 as a big swing state (and Texas in 1988? I don't think so, really). I might have thought that nominees these days were especially likely to come from one-party states, because that would both signal to the rest of the party that a candidate was ideologically reliable and allow him or her to govern. But that doesn't really seem to fit very well.

So, probably it's a fluke, but there might be some political culture reason for it.


  1. I thought you initially left out Kerry in 2004, but I suspect you mistyped when you wrote 2008 as a MA nominee year.

    Interesting question and I would guess it is a fluke. Be interesting to see if Elizabeth Warren adds her name to the nominee list sometime in the future.

  2. A contributing factor to MA I suspect is JFK and the Kennedy political operatives that always brought young people into the fold to perpetuate it at least as long as Ted Kennedy was alive, plus other less quantifiable factors. The assassinations of JFK and RFK had and still have repercussions.

    One that is pretty easy to describe is the assassination of RFK in 1968, which left a vacuum for his supporters, and for the kind of change he represented. McGovern was their default candidate, and the ties were made explicit when his second go at a vp was Shriver. So McGovern was in a way a MA candidate; certainly a Kennedy candidate.

    Ted Kennedy was key to Dukakis and Kerry 's candidacy. The Kennedys were key for Obama in 08, and they explicitly made him their political heir. It will be interesting to see what happens with the more diffuse young Obama generation.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?