The American Direct Primary: Party Institutionalization and Transformation in the North

By Alan Ware | Go to book overview
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Introduction

This book aims to shed light on two crucial questions about political parties: Why are America's parties different from those in Europe? And why did the party-centered American politics of the nineteenth century become a candidate-centered system during the twentieth century? The two questions are linked, in that to answer the first adequately requires the availability of an answer to the second. As with many issues in political science, the problem is not the absence of possible answers but that there are too many competing, and sometimes incompatible, explanations. Superficially plausible though some of these explanations are, one of the points that will become evident during the course of the book is that much that has been asserted over the years about America's parties has been taken out of context, is misleading, or is simply untrue.

In attempting to answer the two questions, this study examines how and why direct primary elections were introduced in the United States. The direct primary has been one of the most unusual features of American parties. In each state today the selection of candidates for public office takes the form of an election that is organized by a government agency, rather than the parties themselves, and is subject to state law. Candidates for most elected offices, with the notable exception of the presidency itself, are now chosen in such elections. The direct primary is not just a distinctive institution, however; by some political scientists its introduction is thought to mark an important turning point in the development of America's parties. Thus, in his book, Curing the Mischiefs of Faction, Austin Ranney says, “The general adoption of the direct primary by the states from the early 1900s onward is, in my opinion, the most radical of all the party reforms adopted in the whole course of American history. 1

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1
Austin Ranney, Curing the Mischiefs of Faction: Party Reform in America, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1975, p. 121.

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