Who are the Democrats running for President?

Below we publish an article by Stephen J. Wayne in which the author describes the process of nomination as a presidential candidate in the United States. Stephen J. Wayne is Professor of Political Science at Georgetown University in Washington. He is the author of The Road to the White House 2004 (Thomson / Wadsworth, 2004).

The nomination process for candidates for President of the United States looks and is complex, even chaotic. The system has been in flux since the 1970s, when the Democratic and Republican Parties began revising the rules for selecting their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and the most successful candidates are those who understand its complexity and can use it . But that's exactly what creative politicians do, after all - learn the game of politics and play it hard and skillfully.

The history of the parties and their nomination process

In contrast to the electoral process for electing the president, the process for nominating presidential candidates is not anchored in the American constitution. At the time the constitution was formulated and ratified at the end of the 18th century, there were no political parties. Political parties emerged after the government began operating and as a result of the policies of the first President of the United States, George Washington.

Since 1796, the members of Congress who identified with one of the political parties of the time met informally to decide on the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of their party. Known as the "King Caucus", this system of party candidate selection lasted for nearly 30 years. It collapsed in 1824 - a victim of the decentralization of power within political parties as a result of the expansion of the United States westward.

Nomination events at the federal level replaced the "King's Election Assembly". In 1831 a small party, the Anti-Masons, met in a pub in Baltimore, Maryland to agree on candidates and an electoral platform (a statement of the principles and policies advocated by a political party or candidate) with which to agree would run. The following year, the Democrats met in the same pub to elect their presidential candidates. Since then, the major and most minor parties have held nomination events at the federal level, attended by state delegates to vote for their presidential and vice-presidential candidates and to agree on their political positions.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, nomination conventions were controlled by state party leaders, who used their influence to select their state delegates and ensure that they voted "right" at the event. The power of these party leaders eventually became a political issue within the parties. Those who did not like long-established party bosses reading presidential candidates by hand supported reforms that allowed party supporters within states to elect congress delegates in "primaries" - elections held before the general election. By 1916, over half of the states had introduced presidential primaries.

The movement to encourage more party supporters to participate in their party's selection process was short-lived, however. After World War I, party leaders who saw the primaries as a threat to their own influence persuaded state legislatures to abolish them, arguing that they were expensive and that few voters would vote. Some potential candidates refused to take part in the primaries because they already had the support of state party leaders and did not want to risk losing it in a direct election. In addition, the preferential elections for the preferred presidential candidate in some states were merely advisory; the delegates for the congress were elected in a different way. In 1936, only a dozen or so states continued to hold presidential primaries.

After the Second World War, the pressure to democratize with the support of developments in communication technology increased again. The advent of television provided a medium through which people could watch and hear the election campaign in their own living room. Television also provided a forum for candidates to demonstrate their charisma, popularity and eligibility. Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon all went to the state as primary candidates at considerable cost and effort to prove to their party that a general, a Catholic, and a once-defeated presidential candidate can win the general election. And they were successful. They were all nominated by their party and elected president.

In addition, the Vietnam War, which began in the mid-1960s and continued into the 1970s, created divisions within the Democratic Party, which in turn sparked pressure for further reforms. The catalyst was the Democratic Party's nomination process in 1968: an antiwar movement split the Democratic Party and led to violent demonstrations on the streets of Chicago - the city that hosted the convention that year. Despite the uproar that accompanied their meeting, the party nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had decided against participating in the Democratic primaries and thus became the target of the anti-war protests.

In an attempt to unite a split party, the Democrats' Congress, following the nomination of Humphrey, agreed to appoint a committee to review the party's nomination process for president, with the dual aim of increasing the party's involvement in the election of a Democratic nominee and a more balanced representation of the party at its nomination convention. The reforms passed by the party sparked a process by which the two major political parties made the way in which their candidates were selected more democratic.

The current system of primaries and the electoral assembly

The big changes introduced by the Democrats led most states that pass electoral laws for their residents to hold primaries. As currently stipulated in the Constitution, a primary is an election between supporters of the same party to determine that party's candidate for general election. Depending on state law, voters can vote directly for the party's presidential candidate or indirectly for congress delegates who have pledged to support those candidates.

The only other option the states have under the current system is to have a multi-stage process of electoral assemblies and party conventions in which party supporters living in a relatively small geographic area - a local constituency - come together and select delegates to support Have committed candidates. These delegates, in turn, represent their constituencies at the county-level party convention, which selects delegates to attend the state-level party convention, which selects the delegates to represent the state at the federal party convention. Although this system takes several months, the preferred candidates are essentially determined in the first round of voting.

The actual size of a state's federal party congress delegation is calculated using a formula determined by each party, which takes into account, for example, the population of the state, the support it has given party candidates at the federal level in the past, and the number of elected representatives and party leaders currently in office are located. The formula used by the Democrats leads to federal party conventions with about twice as many delegates as those of the Republicans.

The United States Constitution gives states the power to make their own electoral laws in accordance with the rules and conditions established by Congress. Although the states have a free hand in setting the dates of their primaries and election meetings, they also have an interest in running the nomination competitions in accordance with party regulations, as the United States Supreme Court ruled that the parties have the right to set their own rules for to set up and enforce participation in the federal party conferences. States that allow the selection of party congress delegates according to rules that are inconsistent with those of the party run the risk of their delegates being rejected at the federal party conventions or the size of their delegations being reduced by the party for non-compliance with party regulations.

Today, about 80 percent of the delegates attending their party's federal party conventions are selected in primary elections, which are open to any enlisted or declared Republican or Democrat.

The Democratic Party has imposed a set of national rules on all of its factions in the states; the Republican Party does not. Democratic rules require states to run their nomination campaigns between the first Tuesday in February and the second Tuesday in June of the year that a presidential election takes place. The smaller states of Iowa and New Hampshire are officially exempt from this and can vote earlier, as they traditionally hold the first electoral assembly and the first area code. Another rule by the Democrats is that 75 percent of a state's delegate must be elected in districts no larger than a congressional constituency. In this way, the representation of minorities is to be strengthened, who may live concentrated in communities in the state. In addition, the number of delegates who have chosen to elect a particular candidate is determined in proportion to the number of votes they or their candidates receive. The Democrats also have delegates - party leaders and other elected officials - who are not required to endorse certain candidates, even though those candidates may have won primary elections in their states. After all, the state democratic delegations must be composed of an equal number of men and women.

Despite the differences in party rules - Republicans bow to their factions in the states and Democrats do not - there are two salient tendencies:

· More and more states have moved their primaries and election meetings to the beginning of the electoral process in order to have more influence over the selection of candidates, to encourage candidates to address the needs and concerns of the state, and to secure more campaign funds for them. This is known as "front loading".

· In a practice known as "regionalization", states in a region work together to hold primaries and election meetings on the same day in order to maximize the impact on the region.

Both trends are forcing candidates to campaign earlier to consolidate their position in the states that hold the first elections. Candidates must also increasingly focus on the mass media, especially radio and television, and on helping state party leaders to reach their voters in the many states that hold their elections on the same day.

The front loading and the regionalization of the nomination process in the presidential primaries benefit the nationwide known candidates, such as the incumbent president, the governors of large states, the senators and the members of the House of Representatives, who have access to money, media and organizational support.

Consider, for example, the preludes to the 2004 election for Democratic presidential candidates. Eight Democratic candidates had raised approximately $ 25 million and by March 31, 2003, more than ten months before the first primary or election meeting, had already spent $ 7 million. Of these candidates, those with seats in Congress had raised the most money, hired the best-known political advisors, and built the largest campaign organizations. The streamlined process is detrimental to those who need primaries and election meetings as a stepping stone to their nomination, such as Jimmy Carter in 1976 and John McCain in 2000.

The ongoing change in the nomination process affects all candidates. Even incumbent presidents cannot consider a new nomination to be certain. In 1992, George H.W. Bush suffered some embarrassing defeats in the primaries when he faced conservative talk show expert and newspaper columnist Pat Buchanan. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, raised large sums of campaign money very early in 1996 to prevent political opponents in his own party from running against him. Clinton used this money to run a media-centric election campaign, from the start of the party's election meeting and primaries through to the presidential election.

Party nominations and democracy

Reforms of the nomination process for the presidency have clearly broadened the basis of public participation. Before the last changes took place in 1968, only 12 million people voted in the primaries, accounting for about 11 percent of the electorate. In 2000, around 35 million people took part, 15 percent of the electorate. In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, more than 20 million people voted in the contest between George W. Bush and his Republican competitors, and 15 million in the Democratic contest between Vice President Al Gore and his main competitor, former Senator Bill Bradley .

In addition to the increase in public participation, the modern nomination process has led to an improved representation of the respective electoral alliances. Although the demographic characteristics - in terms of race and gender, for example - are now better represented by the delegates at the nomination party congresses, this is not the case with the ideological tendencies. The reason for this is that those who participate more actively in the nomination process are party members who are more ideological than the average party member. As a result, the delegates to the Republican congresses are more conservative and the Democratic delegates more liberal than their respective constituencies.

As mentioned above, the reforms have also weakened the influence of party leaders in the states and created incentives for candidates to secure broad support for the nomination through public calls to the party base. These calls have strengthened ties between the candidates and their supporters at the party base. They have also made sure that those who come into office keep their campaign promises. For example, in his first year in office, George W. Bush devoted all of his energy to delivering on his most important election promises. These included tax breaks, educational reforms, and increased military readiness - political initiatives geared towards its conservative political base.

Although many of the reforms have democratized the nomination process, there is still an imbalance. Voters who take part in the primaries are typically more educated, have higher incomes, and are older than the average Republican or Democratic voter. In addition, those who have a higher standard of living are logically more able to donate money to a candidate or their projects. Inevitably, their vote will have more weight in the election result.

Finally, the nomination process has created disagreements within the parties at times. The more competitive the nomination process, the greater the likelihood that the disagreement will reach a point that must be overcome quickly if the party is to campaign successfully for its candidate.

The influence of the party congresses

Due to the changes in the nomination process for the presidential elections, the federal party congress for nominating a candidate has lost its importance. Nowadays, the presidential candidate is chosen very early in the nomination process by the electorate. The candidate, in turn, announces his decision on the vice-presidential candidate before the party conference. The successful candidate is also responsible for drafting the election program. So why should Americans spend their time in front of the television watching the nomination conventions?

In fact, many people don't either. Party conference viewership has declined in recent years, as has the number of hours that major television stations broadcast the process at prime time. According to polls by the polling institute in the summer of 2000, when the nomination congresses for the two parties were taking place, about half of the television viewers did not watch either party.

Despite the decline in viewers, the party congresses continue to be reported in news programs and newspapers. The same polls found that in 2000 public awareness and knowledge of the candidates and their policies increased during and immediately after the election campaign. As a result, the party congresses helped to inform voters, to secure the candidate's support and enthusiasm from party members and to draw the attention of the population to the upcoming election.

Of course, the presidential candidate nomination process isn't perfect, but it has helped increase voter turnout, improve demographic representation, and strengthen ties between individual party members and candidates over the past few decades. In its current form, the process has primarily benefited those candidates who are better known, have received larger campaign contributions, have the most effective campaign organizations, and are the most popular voters early in the presidential primaries.

America Service March 1, 2004
Embassy of the United States of America, Berlin, Germany