American Presidential Elections: Process, Policy, and Political Change

American Presidential Elections: Process, Policy, and Political Change

American Presidential Elections: Process, Policy, and Political Change

American Presidential Elections: Process, Policy, and Political Change

Synopsis

Milton Cummings, Everett Ladd, David Mayhew, Gerald Pomper, and Harvey Schantz analyze presidential elections over the sweep of American history and examine their impact on political parties, public policy, and society.

Excerpt

Presidential elections are at the core of representative democracy in the United States. In these contests, voters, through the electoral vote system, choose our nation's chief executive for the subsequent four years. The election results also signal victory for a particular political party and leadership team, the ascendancy of a voting coalition and, most likely, a shift of public policy in one direction or another. Presidential elections have a number of indirect effects: they facilitate a legitimate and stable government, offer protection for individuals from their leaders, and provide an opportunity for citizen growth and education. Elections are a central mechanism by which our society resolves conflicts. More cynically, presidential elections are a process of regime renewal, as voters once again grant legitimate authority to their leaders in this most central of state-sponsored democratic rituals.

Presidents of the United States are selected in a two-step process: a major political party nomination and a general election. Although only the general election is called for in the Constitution, all presidents, aside from George Washington, have won the presidential general election as the nominee of a major political party. The Constitution, which specifies eligibility for the presidency, combines with extra-constitutional norms to set the amorphous boundaries of the pool of candidates. The purpose of this chapter is to describe and explain the basics of the presidential selection process. Our discussion follows the quadrennial sequence of events: political prominence; the nomination process; the general election campaign; and voting.

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