Since we are in the midst of the presidential nominating season, I’ll frequently highlight some articles by political scientists who have written on this topic. The first is an article by Barbara Norrander titled, “The End Game in Post-Reform Presidential Nominations” (gated) published in 2000. While much of the journalistic attention given to the presidential nomination process focuses on the start of the nomination season, e.g., “The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary regularly receive one-fourth of all the media’s coverage of presidential nominations,” Norrander notes that:
The role of the early primaries is less likely to be one of launching successful momentum candidacies than it is to be one of eliminating the weakest opponents. With the compact schedule, early wins cannot be translated into subsequent victories if a candidate does not have sufficient prior resources to compete on multistate primary days. The second round of primaries is the crucial battleground between the most viable of the presidential contenders. Whether the front-runner is able to string together a series of victories or is successfully challenged by an opponent at this stage will have the most impact on the ultimate decision of naming the party’s presidential nominee.
She goes on to note that,
Trailing candidates are increasingly willing to exit the presidential nomination contests as soon as another candidate secures a lead in committed delegates. An advantage as small as 25% of the delegates needed for the nomination maybe sufficient to convince even the strongest challenger to concede the race to the front-runner. As a result, since the late 1980s presidential nomination contests have come to a close by late April or earlier. At that time between one third and three-quarters of the delegates have been selected. Candidates during
the early 1980s stayed in the contest longer, waiting for the front-runner to near the official criterion of controlling 50% of the convention delegates.
So if you want to figure out who’s going to win the nomination, don’t focus on who’s leading in Iowa and New Hampshire, but see who’s leading in the second round of primaries.