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

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

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

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

Synopsis

This is the first major study of the origins of direct primary elections in the U.S. since the 1920s. It rejects the widely held view that primaries resulted from a conflict between anti-party reformers and so-called party "regulars." Instead, it shows that the direct primary was the result of an attempt, starting in the late 1880s, by mainstream party politicians to subject their previously informal procedures to formal rules. Politicians turned to the direct primary because it proved impossible to make effective changes to the caucus-convention system of nominating candidates.

Excerpt

As with several of the books and articles I have written, the origins of The American Direct Primary lie in my gradually becoming aware that arguments I had long assumed to be valid might not be. In the mid-1990s I had been rereading articles by Martin Shefter, published originally in 1983, but that had been reissued in his Political Parties and the State. One of the points that struck me was that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, party organizations in the eastern United States were no weaker than they had been a few decades earlier; indeed, because there had been pressures toward centralization, in some ways they were stronger than in the 1870s and 1880s. If Shefter's account of the state of the parties were correct, and to me it seemed a highly plausible account, how was the introduction of the direct primary in the eastern half of the United States to be explained? After all, here was a reform that appeared to run counter to the interests of parties but that had been adopted at a time when those parties were arguably still at the peak of their power. Trying to solve that puzzle set me on the path that has led to the publication of this book.

I was fortunate in enjoying the help of a great many people during the period it was being researched and written. Some of my first attempts at formulating the ideas I was developing were in papers presented to the Senior Seminar in American Politics at the University of Oxford. I am grateful to the members of that seminar for their comments, especially its convenor Byron Shafer, Nigel Bowles, David Goldey, and Desmond King. Desmond King also supplied me with various helpful written comments on a number of occasions.

The first extended period of research I undertook on the topic was in the late summer and autumn of 1996 when I was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Once again, IGS proved a wonderful place to be based while undertaking a research project. I received the help of a number of people at the Institute, especially its director, Nelson Polsby, and the librarian . . .

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