Choosing Presidential Candidates

June 6, 1980

Report Outline
New Methods of Selection
Candidates' Public Image
Appeal of Third Parties
Special Focus

New Methods of Selection

Primaries: The New Politics of Attrition

Is this the best way to choose presidential candidates? That is the question many political analysts are asking now that the primary season is over. Twenty years ago, John F. Kennedy needed only two big primary victories — Wisconsin and West Virginia — to persuade party leaders to support him for the 1960 Democratic nomination. But since then, the power of political parties has been diluted as the nominating system has changed to emphasize mass participation. While the change is primarily an outgrowth of extensive Democratic rules changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the widening of the delegate selection process has had an impact on Republicans as well, most notably in the proliferation of state primaries. In 1968 only 17 states held primaries; in 1980 there were primaries in 35 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

About three-fourths of the delegates to the 1980 nominating conventions were chosen in the state primaries. But, ironically, the proliferation of primaries has increased the importance of early delegate selection events such as the Iowa precinct caucuses, held this year on Jan. 21, five weeks before the traditionally important New Hampshire primary. A victory in Iowa can gain a candidate media attention and early momentum. Both George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 used strong showings in Iowa to propel their dark-horse candidacies to the Democratic nominations.

The attention given the early caucuses and primaries has lead candidates to enter the presidential campaign earlier than ever before. When Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois announced his candidacy in June 1979, he became not the first or second contender for the Republican nomination, but the seventh. Even well-known candidates who delayed their formal announcements felt compelled to form campaign committees in early 1979 to do necessary organizational and fund-raising work.

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
Campaigns and Elections