The Date of the 2016 Iowa Caucus Is Set. For Now.
The Democratic National Committee voted this weekend to adopt its 2016 calendar, setting the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses for early February—and unlike in 2008 and 2012, the calendar this time seems much more likely to stick.
In past cycles, a handful of troublemaking states who wanted more influence in the nominating process ended up completely wrecking the proposed calendar by moving up their primaries; this year, efforts by both parties and new, tougher sanctions from the Republican National Committee are helping ensure that more states comply with the calendar and fall in line.
There's certainly a chance the calendar could change—as both parties learned ahead of 2012, it just takes one state jumping the gun to create a snowball effect that pushes the whole calendar forward by more than a month. It'll be tough to tell what happens until next year, when most of the legislative action could take place—but as of now the number of states that could or would make such a move is far smaller than it was in 2012.
Per the DNC's 2016 calendar, approved at the party's meeting in Atlanta, the Iowa caucuses will be held on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20, and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. All other states can hold their primaries any time from March 1 through June.
In both the 2008 and 2012 cycles, the calendar proposed by each party was just that: a rough proposal that bore no resemblance to the final calendar. Florida's decision to hold a Jan. 31 primary, combined with both Arizona and Michigan opting for Feb. 28, ultimately wreaked havoc on the proposed calendar and pushed the Iowa caucuses up from the scheduled Feb. 6 to Jan. 3.
But many of 2012's biggest troublemakers are falling in line this time. Florida, it seems, won't be a problem again: Last year, the state Legislature approved a proposal to move the state's primary back to March, putting it in compliance with the new calendar. Arizona, which played a role in the front-loading in 2012, is now slated for a mid-March primary. And a potential conflict in Missouri, which had previously scheduled its primary for February, was averted when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill moving the primary back to March.
There's really only one remaining wild card so far this year: Michigan, where election law still states the primary should be held on the fourth Tuesday of February. That would make it Tuesday, Feb. 23—four days ahead of the proposed South Carolina primary, which presumably wouldn't go over well with Palmetto State politicians.
North Carolina's election law, which requires the state's primary to be held the Tuesday after South Carolina's, seemed to be problematic as well if the vote were held earlier in the year—though if the calendar stays as-is, that would mean North Carolina would go on March 1, just within the DNC's guidelines.
Party officials say they don't expect there to be any calendar conflicts this time around, in large part because of the penalties on states that do jump the gun. Republicans have adopted their strictest delegate penalties ever, reducing the number of convention delegates for a state that jumps ahead to just nine (or one-third of the state's original number of delegates for smaller states, whichever is lower).
Democrats have maintained the same penalties they had in 2012, which call for offending states' delegate totals to be cut in half. The party's Rules and Bylaws Committee has the power to enforce additional sanctions on states that jump ahead, including losing all its delegates entirely or being subject to convention-related penalties like hotel locations or convention seating. And the DNC actually rewards states that comply with the calendar, awarding them extra delegates.
States that aren't Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina have argued that moving up their respective primaries meant they could share a bit of the presidential limelight: The four early states get unparalleled national importance and attention, which other states often want a piece of.
There's still plenty of time for things to change. The bulk of the action last time around was in 2011, the year before the election, so 2015 could see similar movement as state legislatures consider the matter early next year. And penalties didn't seem to bother states like Florida, Arizona, and Michigan last time around. But as of now, it looks like reporters and pols alike will be able to avoid spending New Year's in Des Moines come 2016.