U.S. Presidential Primaries and the Caucus-Convention System: A Sourcebook

By James W. Davis | Go to book overview
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Some years ago, political scientist Austin Ranney observed that "in America the presidential nominating game is played under by far the most elaborate, variegated, and complex set of rules in the world. They include national party rules, state statutes (especially those governing presidential primaries), and a wide variety of rulings by national and state courts." 1 The main purpose of this sourcebook is to help reduce the confusion that surrounds the highly convoluted American presidential nominating process.

To assist the reader in making sense out of this complicated selection process, the sourcebook has been organized around nineteen major topics. Hopefully, they will guide the reader toward a better understanding of this unique nominating process, which permits a degree of popular control and participation not found elsewhere in the free world, except Canada. 2

Over the past quarter century the American nominating process has undergone a major transformation. Within a generation, decision making on presidential nominations has shifted from the tight control of state party leaders to popular-elected delegates pledged to support the winner of the primaries. The chief explanation can be found in the rapid proliferation of presidential primaries to approximately forty states and the compulsory delegate pledges contained in these new laws.

Twenty-five years ago the study of presidential primaries was a neglected area of American politics. Only one book on the subject had been published since Louise Overacker's pioneering study in 1926. The explanation for this academic indifference was simple: Presidential primaries were secondary in the selection of the party nominee.

Until 1972, presidential nominees were almost always the choice of state party leaders and insiders, especially in the caucus-convention states. Only


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