Hagen testifies on moving
At a public hearing on electoral reform at Temple on Monday, May 23, Michael Hagen, director of Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs, told state representatives that moving Pennsylvania’s presidential primary from April to early March could increase the state’s national influence, drive up voter participation and encourage campaigns to invest resources in Pennsylvania.
In his testimony before the House Republican Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Mario Civera Jr. (Delaware County), Hagen also argued that the impact of moving Pennsylvania’s primary to early March “may not be all that great.” Even if the primary is moved up, the primacy of the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses — both currently scheduled for late January in 2008 — will likely remain unchallenged.
“The big disparity in influence is between the very early states, especially Iowa and New Hampshire, and all the rest,” said Hagen, who is also on Temple’s political science faculty. Besides, he added, many other states are considering moving up their primaries, which would dilute the impact of Pennsylvania’s move.
Hagen acknowledged that the problem of “front-loading” on the primary calendar has rendered many states’ primaries, including Pennsylvania’s, nearly meaningless.
“Presidential campaigns have little incentive to pay attention to the particular concerns [of Pennsylvania residents],” Hagen told the committee. “The electorate understands that nothing is at stake in later primaries. … Therefore, many people in those states don’t bother to vote.”
Hagen said the problem “cannot be solved by individual states — it requires a national solution.” While he acknowledged that there has been little progress toward the interstate coordination required for such a solution, Hagen said that Pennsylvania’s move could have an unintended positive side-effect.
“It may be that the prospect of a 2008 primary calendar even more front-loaded than ever before would help to motivate a national solution,” he said.
Hagen, who was the first witness in two days of hearings, concluded his testimony on a sobering note.
“None of the issues I’ve addressed really cut to the core of the problem of voter participation,” he said. “If participation is the ultimate goal, [moving up the primary] is just working around the edges. To really increase voter participation … would require making registration and voting much easier.”
– By Hillel J. Hoffmann