The Full Wiki

United States presidential primary: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The series of presidential primary elections and caucuses is one of the first steps in the process of electing the President of the United States of America. The primary elections are run by state and local governments, while caucuses are private events run by the political parties. A state primary election usually is an indirect election: instead of voters directly selecting a particular person running for president, it determines how many delegates to each party's national convention each candidate will receive from that state.



Both major political parties (Democratic and Republican) officially nominate their candidate for President at their respective national conventions, usually held during the summer before the federal election. Depending on state law and state party rules, when voters cast ballots for a candidate in a presidential caucus or primary, they may actually be voting to award delegates "bound" to vote for a candidate at the state or national convention, or they may simply be expressing an opinion that the state party is not bound to follow in selecting delegates to the national convention. In addition to delegates chosen during primaries and caucuses, state delegations to both the (Democratic and Republican) conventions also include "unpledged" delegates. For Republicans, these include top party officials. Democrats have a more expansive group of unpledged delegates called "superdelegates", who are party leaders and elected officials.

In recent elections, the eventual nominees were known well before the actual conventions took place. The last time a major party's nominee was not clear before the convention was in 1976, when incumbent president Gerald Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan.



Campaigning for President often begins a year or more before the New Hampshire primary, almost two years before the presidential election.

For 2008, both the Republicans and the Democrats moved their Nevada caucuses to January 19, which was an earlier date than past election cycles. In response, other states also changed their primary election dates for 2008, creating a cascade of changes in other states. The election dates for 2008, up to and including Super Tuesday were as follows.[1]

The Republican National Committee, with the concurrence of chairman Mike Duncan on November 8, voted 121-9 to strip one-half of delegates from five States that violated the rules of having no primary before February 5. The States and their losses were: South Carolina, Florida (57), Michigan (30), Wyoming (14), and New Hampshire (12). The Democratic party has also voted to remove all of Florida and Michigan's delegates.[2][3]

The first binding event, in which a candidate can secure convention delegates, is traditionally the Iowa caucus, held in early January of the presidential election year. It is followed by the New Hampshire primary, the first primary by tradition and New Hampshire state law.

Because these states are small, campaigning takes place on a much more personal scale. As a result, even a little-known, underfunded candidate can use "retail politics" to meet intimately with interested voters and perform better than expected. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary have produced a number of headline-making upsets in history:[4]

  • Harry S. Truman ended his re-election bid in 1952 after losing the New Hampshire primary.[5]
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson dropped his 1968 reelection bid after performing far below expectations in the New Hampshire primary.
  • Pat Buchanan's 2nd place showing in the 1992 and win in the 1996 New Hampshire primaries coincided with the weakness of the future nominees, incumbent George H. W. Bush, and Senator Bob Dole respectively, Bush and Dole subsequently lost the general election; prior to the General Election, then Governor Bill Clinton only garnered a 43% plurality in the general election after losing New Hampshire in 1992.
  • John McCain, a senator from Arizona, defeated George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary in 2000, creating the illusion of a close contest. (McCain went on to lose the South Carolina primary, which effectively ended his campaign in 2000 despite late wins in Michigan and his home state of Arizona)
  • John Kerry won both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary over heavily favored Howard Dean to win the 2004 Democratic nomination.

Iowa and New Hampshire set the tone for campaigns—and allow an outsider to topple the favorite. In recent elections, the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary have garnered over half the national and international media attention paid to the entire selection process.

After Iowa and New Hampshire, primaries and caucuses are held in the other states, Puerto Rico, insular areas, and the District of Columbia. The front runners attempt to solidify their status, while the others fight to become #2.[6] Each party sets its own calendar and rules, and in some cases actually administers the election. However, to reduce expenses and encourage turnout, the major parties' primaries are usually held the same day and may be consolidated with other state elections. The primary election itself is administered by local governments according to state law. In some cases, state law determines how delegates will be awarded and who may participate in the primary; where it does not, party rules prevail.[7]

In recent years states have been holding increasingly early primaries to maximize their leverage (see below). California moved its primary back to June in 2004, having moved it to March in 1996. However, California now has its presidential primary on the first Tuesday in February (February 5, 2008) as one of the 24 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday.

Types of primaries

Franchise in a primary is governed by rules established by the state party, although the states may impose other regulations.

Nearly all states have a binding primary, in which the results of the election legally bind some or all of the delegates to vote for a particular candidate at the national convention, for a certain number of ballots or until the candidate releases the delegates. A handful of states practice a non-binding primary, which may select candidates to a state convention, which then selects delegates. Both major parties have rules that designate superdelegates.

In many states, only voters registered with a party may vote in that party's primary, known as a closed primary. In some states, a semi-closed primary is practiced, in which voters unaffiliated with a party (independents) may choose a party primary in which to vote. In an open primary, any voter may vote in any party's primary. In all of these systems, a voter may participate in only one primary; that is, a voter who casts a vote for a candidate standing for the Republican nomination for president cannot cast a vote for a candidate standing for the Democratic nomination, or vice versa. A few states once staged a blanket primary, in which voters could vote for one candidate in multiple primaries, but the practice was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2000 case of California Democratic Party v. Jones as violating the freedom of assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment.[8]

Under the 2008 Democratic Party selection rules, adopted in 2006, delegates are selected under proportional representation, which requires a candidate have a minimum of 15% of a state's popular vote to receive delegates. In addition, the Democratic Party may reject any candidate under their bylaws. Each state publishes a Delegate Selection Plan that notes the mechanics of calculating the number of delegates per congressional district, and how votes are transferred from local conventions to the state and national convention.[9]

The Republican Party's 2008 rules leave more discretion to the states in choosing a method of allocating delegates. As a result, states variously apply the statewide winner-take-all method (e.g., New York), district- and state-level winner-take-all (e.g., California), or proportional allocation (e.g., Massachusetts).[10]


There is no provision for the role of political parties in the United States Constitution. Before 1820, Democratic-Republican members of Congress would nominate a single candidate from their party. That system collapsed in 1824, and since 1832 the preferred mechanism for nomination has been a national convention.[11]

Delegates to the national convention were usually selected at state conventions whose own delegates were chosen by district conventions. Sometimes they were dominated by intrigue between political bosses who controlled delegates; the national convention was far from democratic or transparent. Progressive Era reformers looked to the primary election as a way to measure popular opinion of candidates, as opposed to the opinion of the bosses. In 1910, Oregon became the first state to establish a presidential preference primary, which requires delegates to the National Convention to support the winner of the primary at the convention. By 1912, twelve states either selected delegates in primaries, used a preferential primary, or both. By 1920 there were 20 states with primaries, but some went back, and from 1936 to 1968,12 states used them. (Ware p 248)

The primary received its first major test in the 1912 election pitting incumbent President William Howard Taft against challengers Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt proved the most popular candidate, but as most primaries were non-binding "preference" shows and held in only fourteen of the-then forty-eight states, the Republican nomination went to Taft, who controlled the convention.

Seeking to boost voter turnout, New Hampshire simplified its ballot access laws in 1949. In the ensuing "beauty contest" of 1952, Republican Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated his broad voter appeal by out polling the favored Robert A. Taft, "Mr. Republican." Also, Democrat Estes Kefauver defeated incumbent President Harry S. Truman, leading the latter to decide not to run for another term.[12] The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary has since become a widely-observed test of candidates' viability.

The impetus for national adoption of the binding primary election was the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention. Vice President Hubert Humphrey secured the nomination despite primary victories and other shows of support for Senator Eugene McCarthy, running against Humphrey on a strong anti-Vietnam War platform. After this, a Democratic National Committee-commissioned panel led by Senator George McGovern – the McGovern–Fraser Commission – recommended that states adopt new rules to assure wider participation. A large number of states, faced with the need to conform to more detailed rules for the selection of national delegates, chose a presidential primary as an easier way to come into compliance with the new national Democratic Party rules. The result was that many more future delegates would be selected by a state presidential primary. The Republicans also adopted many more state presidential primaries.

With the broadened use of the primary system, states have tried to increase their influence in the nomination process. One tactic has been to create geographic blocs to encourage candidates to spend time in a region. Vermont and Massachusetts attempted to stage a joint New England primary on the first Tuesday of March, but New Hampshire refused to participate so it could retain its traditional place as the first primary. The first successful regional primary was Super Tuesday of March 8, 1988, in which nine Southern states united in the hope that the Democrats would select a candidate in line with Southern interests.[13]

Another trend is to stage earlier and earlier primaries, given impetus by Super Tuesday and the mid-1990s move (since repealed) of the California primary and its bloc of votes—the largest in the nation—from June to March. To retain its tradition as the first primary in the country (and adhere to a state law which requires it to be), New Hampshire moved their primary forward, from early March to early January.



Great attention was paid to the results of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary; however, critics, such as Mississippi secretary of state Eric Clark and Tennessee Senator William Brock, point out that these states are not representative of the United States as a whole: they are overwhelmingly white, more rural, and wealthier than the national average, and neither is in the fast-growing West or South. For example, New Jersey and Montana, which are the last states to have their primaries, usually end up having no say in who the presidential candidate will be; in 2004, they had their primaries in June, 13 weeks after Senator John Kerry became unopposed.[14] The New Jersey primary has been moved to February for the 2008 election.

Although the addition of Nevada to the early primaries in 2008 was done to equalize representativeness in the country, this change does little to represent the entire country.

In 2005, the primary commission of the Democratic National Committee began considering removing New Hampshire and Iowa from the top of the calendar. A revised system was supposed to take effect beginning in 2008; however, it has not received approval, so New Hampshire and Iowa are still the first primaries in 2008. New Hampshire is fighting back by obliging candidates who want to campaign in the state to pledge to uphold that primary as the first one.

Front-loading and compression

States vie for earlier primaries to claim greater influence in the nomination process, as the early primaries can act as a signal to the nation, showing which candidates are popular and giving those who perform well early on the advantage of the bandwagon effect. Also, candidates can ignore primaries that fall after the nomination has already been secured, and would owe less to those states politically. As a result, rather than stretching from March to July, most primaries take place in a compressed time frame in February and March. National party leaders also have an interest in compressing the primary calendar, as it enables the party to reduce the chance of a bruising internecine battle and to preserve resources for the general campaign.

In such a primary season, however, many primaries will fall on the same day, forcing candidates to choose where to spend their time and resources. Indeed, Super Tuesday was created deliberately to increase the influence of the South. When states cannot agree to coordinate primaries, however, attention flows to larger states with large numbers of delegates at the expense of smaller ones. Because the candidate's time is limited, paid advertising may play a greater role. Moreover, a compressed calendar limits the ability of lesser-known candidates to corral resources and raise their visibility among voters, especially when a better-known candidate enjoys the financial and institutional backing of the party establishment.[15]

In an article from Detroit News, Tennessee Senator William (Bill) Brock said about front-running, "Today, too many people in too many states have no voice in the election of our major party nominees. For them, the nominations are over before they have begun."[15]

Reform proposals

There are several proposals for reforming the primary system. Some have called for a single nationwide primary to be held on one day. Others point out that requiring candidates to campaign in every state simultaneously would exacerbate the purported problem of campaigns being dominated by the candidates who raise the most money. The following proposals attempt to return the primary system to a more relaxed schedule, and would help less-funded candidates by lowering the cost of entry.

Graduated random presidential primary system (American Plan)

One reform concept is the graduated random presidential primary system, variations of which have been referred to as the American Plan or the California Plan. This plan starts with small primaries, and gradually moves up to larger ones, in 10 steps, with states chosen at random. The idea is that fewer initial primaries, typically in smaller states, would allow grassroots campaigns to score early successes and pick up steam. However, since states are chosen at random, travel costs may still be significant.

Delaware Plan

A commission empaneled by the Republican National Committee recommended the Delaware Plan in 2000. This plan had states grouped by size into four groups, with the smallest primaries first, then the next-smallest, and so on. Populous states objected to the plan, however, because it would have always scheduled their primaries at the end of the season. Other criticisms included the wide geographic range of the states, necessitating high travel costs. The Delaware Plan was put to vote at Republican National Convention of 2000 and rejected.

Rotating regional primary system

The National Association of Secretaries of State has endorsed a rotating regional primary system, with the country split into four regions: the West, the Midwest, the South, and the Northeast.[16] Unlike the Delaware Plan and the American Plan, the Rotating Regional Primary System would lower campaigning costs by restricting groups of primaries to single, contiguous regions.

A More Perfect Constitution author Larry J. Sabato is another proponent of this plan, but his proposal would have the order of regional primaries determined by lottery on January 1 of each presidential election year instead of on a rotating basis. In addition, his plan would allow for a few small population states to hold their primaries in advance of the first region to allow for some of the benefits of the current system such as Iowa and New Hampshire voters closely vetting each candidate.

Criticisms of the regional plan include the higher entry costs than the other plans (since 1/4 of the country would vote in the first regional), and the political bias of certain regions (the South or the Northeast) unduly influencing the selection of a nominee.

Interregional primary plan

In the interregional primary plan the country is divided into geographical regions. On each primary date from March to June, one state from each of six regions votes. Each election date would contain a wide variety of perspectives. The order of the states in each region is set by a lottery. In a 24-year cycle, every state would have a chance to be among the first primary states. The primary criticism of this plan is that travel costs would be quite high: in each round, candidates would essentially have to cover the entire country to campaign effectively. Contrary to most reform plans, this would reduce the ability of lesser-funded candidates to build up from small contests to large ones.[17]

National primary

A national primary has been proposed, a single day on which all state primaries and caucuses would be held, with over 120 bills offered in Congress.[18]

Timing adjustment

In the 2008 Republican primary, states that ran early primaries were punished by a reduction of 50% in the number of delegates they could send to the national convention. Extension of this idea would set timing tiers, under which states that ran earlier primaries would send proportionally less delegates to the national convention, and states that waited would get a higher proportional number of delegates to the convention.

For example, the party may allow primaries before March 1 to send 40% of delegates; those during March can send 60%; those during April can send 80%; those during May can send 100%; and those during June can send 120%.

The effect of such a plan would be clumping of primaries at the beginning of each month. It would still allow states to determine the timing of their own primaries, while giving them some incentive to hold primaries later. The disadvantage of the timing adjustment method is that it does not reduce travel time as the regional plans do, although it does permit regional groups of states to voluntarily clump together in a single superprimary as they have done in the past.

Balanced primary system

A balanced primary system has been proposed.[19] It seeks to improve on the current system, while avoiding the problems associated with other reform proposals. Under this plan, primary contests would be held during 13 out of the 18 weeks, starting in late January and ending in late May. California would vote about halfway through the process. Before California votes, each week’s contest would choose about 12% of the delegates necessary for the nomination, from a single state, or a group of contiguous states. After California votes, the contests would award more delegates in larger groups of states, since the positions of the hopefuls would be better known by then.

To provide balance, diversity in each contest would be maximized. Liberal states would be paired with conservative states; urban areas would be mixed with rural areas. The contests would move around so that each region of the country would award some delegates before California votes. In subsequent years, groups of states could trade off dates, so that the same states did not vote early in every election.

The advantages of this system include the feature that lesser known candidates could still have a chance by using retail politics in small states early, without giving those early small states too much influence. Travel time and advertising cost would be minimized by requiring that groups of states be contiguous, thus saving the hopefuls’ time and money. The disadvantage is that the careful balance would require the cooperation of the great majority of the states, making the plan more difficult to implement.

Lists of primaries

See also


  1. ^ "Presidential primary and caucus dates" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 2007-08-30. pp. 1. Retrieved 2007-08-31.  
  2. ^ - GOP Punishes Five Early-Voting States by Stripping Half Their Delegates - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum
  3. ^ Democrats strip Michigan of convention delegates over early primary
  4. ^ Sacala (2003)
  5. ^ New Hampshire Primary CBS News broadcast from the Vanderbilt Television News Archive
  6. ^ Scala (2003)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Bruce E. Cain and Elisabeth R. Gerber, Voting at the political fault line: California's Experiment with the Blanket Primary(2002)
  9. ^ Delegate Selection Rules
  10. ^ Republican Delegate Selection and Voter Eligibility
  11. ^ James S. Chase; Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789–1832 (1973)
  12. ^ Paul T. David. Presidential Nominating Politics in 1952. (1954) Volume: 1: pp 37-40.
  13. ^ Laurence W. Moreland, et al. The 1988 Presidential Election in the South: Continuity Amidst Change in Southern Party Politics (1991) pp 3-20
  14. ^  
  15. ^ a b  
  16. ^
  17. ^ FairVote - Interregional Primary Plan
  18. ^ Zeckhauser Richard J, Leebaert Derek (1983). What Role for Government?: Lessons from Policy Research. Duke University Press. pp. 46. ISBN 0822304813.  
  19. ^ Political Grind » A Better Way to Choose a President


  • Brereton Charles. First in the Nation: New Hampshire and the Premier Presidential Primary. Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall Publishers, 1987.
  • Kendall, Kathleen E. Communication in the Presidential Primaries: Candidates and the Media, 1912–2000 (2000)
  • Hugh, Gregg. "First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary", State of New Hampshire Manual for the General Court, (Department of State) No.55, 1997.
  • McGaughey, Bill. "On the Ballot in Louisiana". Minneapolis: Thistlerose Publications. ISBN 0-9605630-6-7.] A minor candidate's experiences campaigning in Louisiana's 2004 Democratic presidential primary.
  • Palmer, Niall A. The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process (1997)
  • "Reid, labor aided Nevada with Demos", Arizona Daily Star, July 24, 2006.
  • Sabato, Larry, Politics: America's Missing Constitutional Link, Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2006, 149-61.
  • Scala, Dante J. Stormy Weather: The New Hampshire Primary and Presidential Politics (2003)
  • Ware, Alan. The American Direct Primary: Party Institutionalization and Transformation in the North (2002), a British perspective

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address