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Why Democrats Started Using Primary Elections, Then and Now

America Daily with Arleen Richards

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Presidential hopefuls are gearing up for the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries next year. America Daily reporter Arleen Richards explains why primary elections were created in the first place and how timing affects a potential candidate’s chances of making it to the national convention.


The History of Presidential Primaries

The true history of the primary system goes back to our Founding Fathers. Although they didn’t mention it in the Constitution, the Founders realized President Washington couldn’t always be the president.

The first official nominees, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were selected by their respective parties in Congress. But later, by 1832, increasing social pressures and disagreements within the parties led to the national party convention. The national party convention was composed of state delegates who represented the voice of the people. The delegates nominated candidates for president and vice president.

This proved to be a better system than the congressional caucuses because it gave the people a voice and the nominees gained freedom from Congress. Not only that, but the national nominating conventions helped each party become more unified in support of one candidate.

The national convention system had some problems of its own. State party bosses threatened delegates’ jobs to force them to choose their nominees. Although there were many ballots, the bosses had the final word. After a much debated nomination during the 1968 Democratic national convention, the Democratic Party appointed committees to analyze and restructure the nominating process.

Primary Elections Today

Today, since the U.S. Constitution does not have a provision for primary elections, states make their own laws. So the primary election procedure is different across the states.

State primary elections or caucuses held throughout the year pick nominees who will run for president. The candidate with the most votes becomes the nominee.

Iowa Caucus 2106 -- America Daily
A display of 2016 presidential runners ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus. (Phil Roeder/CC)

Why Is it Important for States to Hold the First Primary?

The first primary sets the stage for the rest of the primary competition. It also gives a strong indication of how a candidate will perform in the upcoming primaries. One’s ability to make a showing early in the contest often determines whether he continues or drops out. Also, voters in these early states can essentially determine who the front-runners are.

Iowa and New Hampshire are the first two states to hold primaries. Although they are small states, their elections are most famous because they are first. Candidates who come out in the lead will have an easier time raising money because people like to support a winner.


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