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

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Only party loyalists and stalwarts were chosen, men who could be counted on to vote the way party leaders instructed them based on their wheelings and dealings in those smoke-filled rooms. This fact explains why in President Chester A. Arthur was denied the Republican party nomination for a second term. So, how did reformers propose to break this undemocratic stranglehold of political parties on the nomination process? Primaries in which the people could choose the final nominees from a wide open list of candidates.

With primaries, the political parties could support their favored candidates, but the ultimate choice of nominee would rest with the people. It would be, Progressive-era reformers claimed, a restoration of democracy in America. Initially, primaries were adopted in local elections for offices like school board and mayor. But they gradually expanded to include nominations for state legislators and governors. By every state in the country used the primary system for for some or all of its state and local elections. And what about presidential elections? The campaign of was the first to feature presidential primaries.


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In that year, 14 states held some form of presidential primary. The purpose of these contests, of course, was not to nominate a presidential candidate, but rather to apportion delegates pledged to support a particular candidate at the later national party conventions. But in many states, these early presidential primaries were nonbinding. In other words, they gauged public opinion, but delegates were not bound by the results. And, of course, 34 states held no primaries at all.

Delegates in those states were apportioned in the old-fashioned way: by state conventions controlled by the political party bosses. Roosevelt then launched his famous Bull Moose campaign. The weakness of this early primary system was made crystal clear in the very first presidential election to feature political primaries, This contest was one of the most dramatic in American history. Roosevelt was clearly the most popular candidate among Republican voters.

He won nine of the 14 presidential primaries, with Taft and La Follette winning just two each. But Republican leaders favored Taft, and they controlled the delegates in the 34 states that held no primaries. In the years that followed, presidential primaries increased in popularity.

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By the presidential campaign of , 25 states held primaries. But then, the major political parties pushed back against the political primary movement, convincing several states to drop them. Primaries, they argued, were expensive and voter turnout was lower than reformers promised. So by the number of primaries had declined to only 12 states. And it stayed that way—just 12 states holding presidential primaries—until So, the presidential primary system, at least as we know it today, is of relatively recent vintage. He winds up solving both that puzzle and the question of how the Australian ballot was adopted, which turns out to be related.

Since the direct primary is critical to the development of American political parties, and since Ware has uncovered a story of how it came to be that differs quite a bit from the textbook version, this is a very important book indeed. Ware has discovered that the direct primary was enacted in large part by the parties themselves and not by progressives battling party bosses and emerging victorious.

Relying on original sources, findings by recent historians, and long-forgotten but fascinating research from early political scientists, he concludes that the standard account is House seat have become a relatively common phenomenon. For example, the California general election featured seven House races pitting two Democrats against each other. As such, if increased competition across the parties is the ultimate goal, then more states may want to follow the model of these states in future elections. There are numerous other sources of variation in rules governing primary elections that could influence quality challenger emergence and competitiveness that have yet to be explored.

For instance, 15 states currently impose some form of term limits on their state legislators. What effect, if any, does this legislation have on their willingness to then compete for a U. House seat? The seemingly natural progression would be a seat in the U. Therefore, once a member has been term-limited out of state office, he or she will then have to enter a congressional primary election.

It is theoretically possible, then, that states that impose term limits on state legislators witness greater levels of quality challenger emergence and competition. More directly related to primary elections are the laws regulating the hurdles a candidate must clear in order to pursue office. These rules vary considerably across states with some being overtly cited as unduly strict.

The American Direct Primary

For example, an independent candidate in Georgia must obtain the signatures of five percent of registered voters in the district or jurisdiction the candidate seeks to represent — potentially thousands of signatures — in order to appear on the ballot for a U. House race. With such a high threshold, no independent candidate has successfully made it onto the ballot since , and no minor party candidate has complied with the measure since it was first implemented in Gray et al.

In contrast, a candidate seeking a U. House seat in New Hampshire need only obtain 1, signatures to appear on the ballot. As these examples illustrate, implementing less burdensome ballot access laws could serve to noticeably alter who runs for, and ultimately wins, elections.

In conclusion, the direct primary — along with other Progressive Era reforms — aimed to reduce corruption, enhance citizen participation, and increase levels of competition in U. Control of the selection process by political parties was indeed reduced, but the adoption of direct primaries did not result in increased electoral competitiveness as originally conceived.

Nonetheless, the candidate selection process still became more democratic, and without this important change other reforms would not be possible. Those seeking to further reform the electoral system should take heed of the lessons from history as they look for other institutional arrangements that might enhance electoral competition.

The recent examples from California and Washington seem like a good place to start for other states looking to reform how their candidates are selected in direct primaries. Summers offers a thoroughly engaging and descriptive account of party politics during this era of politics. See also Bensel for a rich history of voting in the nineteenth century.

Parties and Elections – Understanding America

Specifically, Texas passed legislation in banning participation of non-whites in primary elections. This legislation would be in place for more than 20 years, but was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the U. Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright U. Quality challengers are defined as those who have previously held elective office. As noted at the outset of the chapter, our measure focuses on those quality challengers that made it past the primary and into the general election.

This difference is statistically significant as a difference-of-means test yields a t -value of A competitive race is defined as one in which the winning candidate received 55 percent or less of the two-party vote share. For more evidence on these and related points concerning the adoption of electoral reforms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Carson and Roberts Louisiana does not have a primary election phase, per se. Instead, all candidates seeking a particular office appear on the general election ballot. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent plus one votes, the top two candidates proceed to a run-off in December of the election year.

At the same time, it is also possible that the number of quality challengers who emerge to run in U. House primaries may not be greater under these circumstances since they cannot strategically decide to emerge when conditions are ideal. Rather, they decide to run when they can no longer seek reelection in the state legislature. See Maestas, Fulton, Maisel, and Stone and Boatright for greater discussion of this phenomenon. We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site.

You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Free trial voucher code. Invalid Search. Enter keywords, authors, DOI etc. Search History. Search history from this session 0. Metrics Views Abstract Scholars of congressional elections typically focus most of their attention on the general election that occurs in November see, e. Congressional Elections in the s Congressional elections held during the nineteenth century were very different affairs from what we are accustomed to in the modern era.

Progressive Era Reforms The Progressive Era was born of a desire to reduce the power of party machines. Primaries in the Modern Era Boatright was among the first to systematically analyze primary elections for both the U. Table 3. House Incumbent Departures Year Primary Election Defeat General Election Defeat Retirement 2 6 30 6 8 36 3 7 28 2 22 27 4 19 33 4 54 37 13 27 40 4 13 38 6 8 The Effect of Direct Primaries To evaluate the effect of direct primaries on congressional elections, we first consider descriptive trends before and after adoption by individual states at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Conclusion The results presented here are largely consistent with prior research examining candidate emergence following adoption of direct primaries. Abramowitz, Alan I. Senate Elections. House Elections. Alilunas, Lee. Snyder, Jr. Argersinger, Peter H. Banks, Jeffrey S. Benoit, Ken. Bensel, Richard Franklin. Boatright, Robert. Boix, Carles. Brady, David W. The Personal Vote. Carson, Jamie L. Carson, Jamie , Michael H. Crespin , and Ryan D.

Cover, Albert D. Cover, Albert , and Bruce Brumberg. Cox, Gary W. House Elections Grow? Erikson, Robert S. Fenno, Richard F. London: Pearson Press. Ferejohn, John. Fiorina, Morris P. Gray, Virginia , Russell L. Hanson , and Thad Kousser. Washington, D. Grofman, Bernard. Political Gerrymandering and the Courts. New York: Agathon Press. Hall, Andrew B. Herrnson, Paul S. Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and in Washington. Jacobson, Gary C. The Politics of Congressional Elections, 9th ed. Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections.

New Haven: Yale University Press.

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Johannes, John R. Kernell, Samuel. American Journal of Political Science 21 3 : — Key, V. Krasno, Jonathan S. Maestas, Cherie D. Sandy Maisel , and Walter J.

Institutions, Ambitions, and the Decision to Run for the U. Maisel, L. Sandy , and Walter J. House of Representatives. Peter F. Galderisi , Marni Ezra , and Michael Lyons. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 29— Mayhew, David R.


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