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Polls and Elections: Support for Nationalizing Presidential Elections


Jeffrey A. Karp is a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Elections, Media and Parties at the University of Exeter. His research has focused broadly on the question of how institutions affect political attitudes and behavior.
Caroline J. Tolbert is a professor of political science at the University of Iowa. She is coauthor of Digital Citizenship, and her latest book is entitled Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process.


Despite very different historical and constitutional bases for how we nominate presidential candidates and elect presidents to office, as well as very different political processes (sequential versus simultaneous voting), both the presidential nominating process and the Electoral College are rooted in state elections, not a national election, and both create state winners and losers. Previous research has not explored the role of state influence or state self-interest in presidential elections. States that vote early in the nomination process benefit, as do battleground states in the general election, especially small-population states. Given the fundamentally different types of elections examined in this paper, it is surprising that very similar forces shape efforts to nationalize presidential elections. Popular reform options of both the nomination process (national primary) and the general election (national popular vote) focus on a single national election in which the nation's interests, rather than state interests, are paramount. This analysis of 2008 panel survey data shows that citizen opinions on nationalizing presidential elections through a national primary or national popular vote for president are based on strategic decisions defined by short-term electoral politics and long-term self-interest rooted in an individual's state.