The Presidential Selection Process

The American presidential selection process is quite complicated and the exact rules change between each presidential campaign. Most Americans do not understand it completely, foreigners are often totally baffled. However, the presidential selection process can be broken into two basic phases—the struggle for major party nominations and the general election campaign. Each of these phases can be broken down into sub-periods.
 

The Nomination Campaign

Selecting Delegates to the National Convention

The key to the nomination campaign is winning delegates to the party¡¯s national conventions, which are held in the summer of the election year. Delegates are selected state by state beginning in late January and ending in early June. This year¡¯s delegate selectin calendar can be found at Project Vote Smart.  Each state sets its own rules for choosing delegates and decides its own delegate selection dates, and these rules and dates often change between presidential election cycles. But there are two basic methods states use to select delegates—primaries and caucuses. Most states today use primaries, but some still use caucuses. In a primary, the voters of the state go to polling places and vote for candidates, much like in any election. However, in a primary there are actually two simultaneous elections—the Democratic and Republican primaries. Voters must declare which party¡¯s contest they will vote in.

Candidates usually win delegates to the national convention based on the percentage of votes they get in the state. It is difficult to generalize about this process because each state¡¯s rules are different. But for example, if John Kerry wins 50% of the vote, John Edwards wins 30% of the vote, and Howard Dean wins 20% of the vote in the New Hampshire¡¯s Democratic primary, Kerry would get approximately 50% of New Hampshire¡¯s Democratic delegates, McCain would get approximately 30% of New Hampshire¡¯s Democratic delegates, and Forbes would get about 20% of New Hampshire¡¯s Democratic delegates.

In caucus states the delegate selection method takes place in stages. Citizens gather in open Democratic and Republican party meetings and declare their preferences for candidates publicly. Temporary delegates to a state-wide or a regional caucus are selected, again based on the percentage of support each candidate has. At the regional and state-wide meetings this process is repeated until the state¡¯s entire delegation to the national convention has been chosen.

In the United States, the nomination campaign stretches over more than 4 months. Traditionally the Iowa caucuses come first in late January and the New Hampshire primary comes a week later in early February. These early contests are crucial because historically only candidates who come in first or second in at least one of these two contests have been able to gather enough campaign contributions and volunteer workers to mount a successful national campaign. Actually, the presidential races begins years before the Iowa caucuses, as potential presidential candidates travel around the country, building support among party leaders, raising money for the upcoming campaign, and seeking national recognition in the opinion polls

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Flow Chart of the Presidential Selection Process

                 Nomination Campaign     General Election
 

 

Pre-Primary

Early Primaries and Caucuses

Other Primaries and Caucuses

Party Conventions

General Election Campaign

General Election Day

Electoral College

Type of campaigning

Crossing the country

Raising money

Getting Support from party leaders

Face-to-face campaigning
 

TV ads

TV coverage
 

TV ads


 

TV coverage of convention

News coverage

Crossing the country
 

TV ads

 

 


 
 

Key to success

Money

Opinion polls

Getting Media Coverage

Message

Thematic Appeal
 
 

Support from party activists

Image as

Winner

Money

Support from party activists


 

Having a majority of delegates


Mobilizing party supporters

Winning independents


Getting votes

Winning largest population states


 

Winning 270 electors

Number of candidates per party


1-12


1-8


1-4


1-2


1


1


1


Flow Chart of the 2004 Democratic Primary Process

 

Pre-

Primary

After Iowa

Caucus

After

New

Hampshire

Primary

After

Wisconsin

Primary

After

Super

Tuesday

Party

Convention

 

Dean

Gephardt

Kerry

Clark

Edwards

Lieberman

Kucinich

Sharpton

Mosely-Braun

Graham

Kerry

Edwards

Dean

Clark

Lieberman

Kucinich

Sharpton

Kerry

Edwards

Dean

Clark

Kucinich

Sharpton

Kerry

Edwards

Kucinich

Sharpton

???

???


 

Flow Chart of the 2000 Presidential Selection Process

 

 

 
Pre-Primary

After
Iowa Caucus

After
New Hampshire Primary

Other Primaries and Caucus

 
Party Conven-
tions

Republicans

Bush

McCain

Forbes

Hatch

Bauer

Keyes

Dole

Quayle

Alexan-der

Kasich

Smith

Bush

McCain

Forbes

Bauer

Keyes

Bush

McCain

Forbes

Bush

McCain

Bush

Democrats

Gore

Bradley

Gore

Bradley

Gore

Bradley

Gore

Bradley

Gore