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

By Alan Ware | Go to book overview

8
Reaction and Aftermath

By the end of 1915, the direct primary had become the most widely employed nominating system in the United States. All but three states (Connecticut, New Mexico, and Rhode Island) used it for selecting candidates to at least some elective offices. Most of these forty-five states nominated virtually all offices in this way 78 percent of states in the east and 95 percent of western states did so. In an obvious sense, candidate selection had been transformed. But how much had actually changed, and how much of the change that there had been could be attributed to the impact of direct nominations? These are questions that are addressed in the middle of this chapter. Following that, we consider the adoption of the presidential primary, and its relation to the direct primary. First, however, attention will be paid to a matter that was largely forgotten toward the end of the twentieth century, but which is important in understanding the rise of the direct primary: namely, that in the decade and a half after 1915, attempts were made in many states to abandon direct nominations.


1. Reaction Against the Direct Primary

Between 1919 and 1926, more than 70 percent of the nonsouthern states that had enacted direct primary legislation (twenty-six of thirty-four states) experienced attempts by legislators either to repeal or reduce in scope direct nomination provisions. In the 1925 legislative session alone, such efforts were made in nineteen states.1 The revolt against the direct primary was evident throughout the country. Omitting Utah, in which most offices were still not directly nominated anyway, there were only seven states in which little effort was made to revert to the caucus-convention system. Although only two were in the east (Delaware and Pennsylvania), while five were in the west (Arizona, California, Nevada, North Dakota, and Oklahoma), the

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1
Congressional Digest 5, No. 10 (October 1926), p. 260.

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