Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries

By John G. Geer | Go to book overview
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cally address the concern that voters cannot select candidates with broad support in the electorate. This perceived weakness of voters, I contend, is due to the rules regulating the conduct of primaries. This chapter examines three different sets of rules and recommends changes in them to increase the chances that "electable" candidates are chosen.

The concluding chapter takes up the issue of reform. Using the findings of the six previous chapters, I develop a new presidential nominating system. The purpose of the reforms is to minimize the weaknesses of voters in primaries while taking advantage of their strengths. While the conclusions of the previous chapters find much merit in the many participants in primaries, there are still some important problems with relying on voters to choose candidates. Thus, if one seeks to maximize the chances that the nominating system will select good nominees, some changes must be made.

The arguments presented throughout this book will be based on a set of normative criteria. Some will object to these criteria and perhaps reasonably so. But the objective of all the arguments is to show that the question of the qualifications of voters in primaries is very much a value choice. Under some criteria they appear to be good decision-makers. Yet under another set of standards, one could easily call for the retrenchment of primaries and the reestablishment of the authority of party leaders. But since we are all motivated to some degree by partisan considerations, we need to be very sure of the accuracy of our claims before instituting another round of reforms. I hope the pages ahead move us in the right direction.

Primaries existed prior to 1912, but these contests were not used for selecting delegates to the national conventions. See Louise Overacker ( 1926) and James Davis ( 1980) for useful histories of presidential primaries.
In the following races, the nominee also won the most votes in the primaries: the 1928, 1964, and 1968 Republican contests, and the 1912, 1928, 1932, 1956, and 1960 Democratic contests. The instances when the winner of the most votes did not capture the nominations were the 1912, 1916, 1920, 1936, 1940, 1944, and 1948 Republican races, and the 1920, 1924, 1952, and 1968 Democratic races. Most of the "competitive" races were contests where there were no incumbents running for renomination.
The only exception was George McGovern. But even in this case the outcome was very close. McGovern had only 68,000 fewer votes than Humphrey, about 0.5 percent.
I shall rely on other data as well. For instance, I have examined articles in newspapers and an array of videotapes of the paid advertising of the candidates and of the networks' coverage of the primaries.

In a recent study, Howard Reiter ( 1985) presents a lot of useful information


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Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries


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