primary elections

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Preliminary elections in the USA which select candidates within each party. National conventions began in 1832, nominating a party's candidate for President. At first, delegates were chosen by a closed ‘caucus’ system, that is, senior party members in the state chose the delegates behind closed doors. Beginning with Wisconsin in 1903, however, democratic primary elections steadily replaced caucus primaries. They are held by the state, and the results are legally binding on the delegates. Primary elections are also used for a wide range of local and state elections. In the south until the 1960s, the Democrats were so dominant that their primaries for various offices virtually ensured the election of candidates. There are both open and closed presidential primaries. In the former, any adult voter in a state may take part, regardless of her or his own party preference. In the latter, only those who are registered members of the party may vote.

The Kennedy presidential campaign in 1960 was the first to use primaries as a way of circumventing party bosses and proving the electability of a candidate. In 1968 the New Hampshire primary revealed such discontent with President Johnson that his ambitions for re‐election were very seriously compromised. In that year, Richard Nixon used the Republican primaries to prove his popularity. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton respectively used Democrat primaries to introduce themselves from relative obscurity to the American people. By 1988, southern presidential primaries were being coordinated for one giant election (‘Super Tuesday’). From then on, the trend towards shortening the primary season and grouping together state primary elections on one day continued, in order to reduce the political divisiveness and the growing cost of the primary elections.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.