Presidential Primaries

January 31, 2020 • Volume 30, Issue 5
Does the system produce the strongest nominees?
By Alan Greenblatt


A record crop of Democrats are contending this year for their party's nomination in hopes of unseating President Trump, who faces no significant Republican opposition as he seeks renomination. It is possible that no clear Democratic favorite will emerge until well after the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire have their say in February. Over the past half-century, voters participating in primaries and caucuses have supplanted the support of party leaders as the key to winning the nomination. Some observers worry that this has created a reality-show-style free-for-all that lacks proper vetting of potential presidents. Others say party officials and elected leaders still hold considerable sway, noting that this year's debate rules established by the Democratic National Committee have helped winnow the field. Serious questions remain about whether a process that has evolved episodically over time needs to be thoroughly rethought in order to ensure that nominees fully reflect a party's platform, are electable and are qualified to occupy the Oval Office.

Pete Buttigieg (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)
Pete Buttigieg, then still mayor of South Bend, Ind., gets grilling tips from Iowa Pork Queen Gracie Greiner at the Iowa State Fair in August. Buttigieg and other 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are seeking attention in any way they can in early-voting states such as Iowa. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Presidential Candidates and Campaigns
Jan. 15, 2021  The Biden Presidency Updated
Jan. 31, 2020  Presidential Primaries
Nov. 16, 2018  The Presidency
Jan. 06, 2017  Trump Presidency
Mar. 06, 2015  Presidential Power
Feb. 03, 2012  Presidential Election
Jan. 30, 2009  The Obama Presidency
Aug. 08, 2008  Political Conventions
Jul. 18, 2008  Race and Politics
Apr. 20, 2007  Electing the President
Dec. 30, 1988  Promises vs. Problems
Jul. 10, 1987  Presidential Nomination Process
Feb. 03, 1984  Choosing Presidential Nominees
Jun. 06, 1980  Choosing Presidential Candidates
Apr. 09, 1976  Presidential Campaign Coverage
Feb. 23, 1972  Political Conventions
May 27, 1964  Foreign Policy Issues in Election Campaigns
Sep. 21, 1960  Voting in 1960
Jan. 06, 1960  Presidential Primaries, 1960
Jan. 04, 1956  Campaign Smearing
Nov. 30, 1955  Presidential Possibilities, 1956
May 09, 1952  Open Conventions
Jan. 16, 1952  Presidential Primaries, 1952
Oct. 12, 1949  Modernization of the Presidential Election
Jan. 14, 1948  Presidential Primaries
May 01, 1944  Foreign Policy in National Elections
Jan. 01, 1944  Choice of Candidates for the Presidency
Apr. 08, 1940  Republican Candidates for the Presidency, 1940
Apr. 01, 1940  Democratic Candidates for the Presidency, 1940
Jun. 19, 1939  Selection of Nominees for the Presidency
Aug. 19, 1938  Nomination by Primary
Mar. 11, 1936  Voting in Presidential Elections
Feb. 18, 1936  Presidential Candidates, 1936
Mar. 03, 1932  Decline of the Presidential Primary
Aug. 25, 1931  Presidential Candidates, 1932
May 05, 1928  National Nominating Conventions
Sep. 03, 1927  Presidential Candidates—1928
Jun. 14, 1927  Patronage Influence in Nominating Conventions
Sep. 11, 1926  The Future of the Direct Primary
Jul. 02, 1924  Proposed Reforms of Presidential Nominating Methods
Jun. 04, 1924  The Machinery of the Political Conventions
Mar. 15, 1924  Presidential Candidates and the Issues
Sep. 05, 1923  The Passing of the Second Term
Campaign Finance
Campaigns and Elections
Campaigns and Elections
Conservatism and Liberalism
General Social Trends
Internet and Social Media
Journalism and the News
Party Politics
Party Politics
Powers and History of the Presidency
Supreme Court History and Decisions