Communication in the Presidential Primaries: Candidates and the Media, 1912-2000

By Kathleen E. Kendall | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Primary Rules and Their
Impact on Communication

Ranney ( 1977, p. 4) defined the direct primary system in this way:

(1) the parties' nominees to public office are chosen directly by rank-and-file party members rather than indirectly by their representatives in caucuses and conventions; and (2) they are chosen by primary elections--that is, elections administered by public authorities (not party authorities) using virtually the same statutory rules (not party rules) for printing, distributing, casting, and counting ballots that are used in general elections.

When the presidential primaries began, however, there was no such clarity. The nature and meaning of primaries, as interpreted by reformers, party leaders, and the media, have varied widely. And the rules concerning primaries have never stood still; the parties continue to change them, right down to the present. Changes in the meaning and rules of the primaries have directly affected primary campaign communication. This chapter will focus on two important moments in the history of presidential primaries: 1912, when presidential primaries got their first major experimentation and development, and 1972, when the Democratic Party instituted reforms leading to the sudden proliferation of primaries. The nature and rules of primaries in 1932, 1952, and 1992 also will be considered briefly.

Campaign studies rarely focus on the rules;1 as Lengle and Shafer ( 1976, p. 25) have said, rules are "nearly invisible when compared with the groups, issues, and personalities that are the stuff of campaign coverage." Yet they are important "unseen 'participants.'" Senator George McGovern's thorough knowledge of the new rules developed by the Mc-

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