Presidential elections take place every 4 years (Fixed Terms) Article II . Between November 2 nd & 8 th
Since 1951 Presidents limited to two terms
The process can be divided into 5 stages
Stage 1: The ‘Invisible’ Primary
Function : Potential nominees attempt to gain credibility as a candidate via the media. Fund raising (‘war chest) & alliance building begin. Publicity is essential
When ?: No set period. Often a year before the official primary season begins in Jan
Stage 2: The Primaries & Caucuses
Function: State level method used to show popular support for candidates. State parties (Rep/Dem) choose delegates who will go to National Party Convention in July/Aug and cast votes in support of a particular candidate
When ?: Late January – Early June. Spread out over this period
Stage 3: National Party Conventions
Function: Choose Presidential candidate. Choose Vice Presidential Candidate. Decide upon Party Platform. Unite the Party
When?: July/Aug – 4 Days
Stage 4: General Election Campaign
Function: Each candidate attempts to persuade the American public to vote for them on election day. Hugely expensive process.
When: September, October, First week of November
Stage 5: Election Day & Electoral College
Function: Elect The President & Vice President
When : November/December
January of election year NOMINATION PROCESS July/August November January NATIONAL CONVENTIONS ELECTION CAMPAIGN ELECTORAL COLLEGE PROCESS OF SELECTING THE PRESIDENT (Primaries and Caucuses)
Presidential Elections The Primary Season
The ‘Invisible Primary’
Polls very important to measure popularity
Mentions in the media (Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek) and interviews on political programmes (Face the Nation etc) important to raise candidate profile with public
Visits to key states (New Hampshire, Iowa, Bob Dole ’96 ‘President of Iowa’)
Books – ‘ Faith Of My Fathers’ (John McCain) ‘ A Charge to Keep ’ George W Bush
Fund Raising – War Chest : Senator Gramm needed at least $10m to be taken seriously in ’96 election. Elizabeth Dole dropped out in ’99 as didn’t have enough money.
Presidential Primary Elections & Caucuses
Presidential Primary :State based election to choose a party’s candidate for the election. Delegates sent to Convention to vote.
Presidential Caucus: State based meeting to decide on presidential candidate e.g. Iowa
The t iming of Primaries & caucuses is significant (New Hampshire, Super Tuesday, Front Loading)
Primaries Can be ‘Open’ (cross-over voting) (29 states have this or ‘Closed’ primaries e.g New Hampshire and California) (voters may vote in only one parties primar y)
Primaries Can be proportional or winner takes all (WTA). The McGovern-Fraser Commission (1969) means that the Democratic Party now uses the former system in all but a few
Early primaries & caucuses (New Hampshire & Iowa). Candidate strategy
Increased importance of primaries (1950’s & ’60’s – ‘smoke filled rooms’, ’68 Democratic Convention & nomination of Hubert Humphrey who received 2.2% of the vote in the primary vs. 38.7% for Eugene McCarthy led to 1968 McGovern-Fraser Commission)
Outsiders stand a chance (Carter ‘76 – ‘Jimmy who ?’ – Clinton in ’92)
More democratic, less open to abuse of power
Appropriate test for rigours of the campaign (Tsongas ’92)
Weaknesses of the nomination process
‘ A Crazy Process’ New York Times March 1996 – quality of voters
Voter Apathy: 2000 15% of voting age population took part in primaries or caucuses
Unrepresentative: Primary voters tend older, better educated, wealthier & more political/ideological than voting public (Pat Buchanan in ’96 )
Process is too long: 1960 – Kennedy announced 66 days before first primary, 2004 – Kerry announced 423 days before.
Very expensive: As process is so long candidates need to begin fund-raising very early. ‘Front loading’ – very expensive straight away- little time for fund-raising (2000 – Al Gore raised $34m + $15m in matched funds: George Bush raised $90m)
Dominated by media (esp. TV) – Sound bite politics, ‘televised horse race’ (Loevy 1995)
Bitter personal battles (2000 McCain v W. Bush ‘liar’, 1992 Bush v Buchanan, 1988 Bush & Dole)
Lack of ‘Peer Review’ – ‘People who win primaries may become good presidents but it ain’t necessarily so’ Broeder
How could the nomination process be improved ?
Regional Primaries: 4 geographical regions, 4 election dates (March /April / May /June): Rotated over 4 yr period- no front loading, less travel, more measured response from voters
Weighting Votes: At party convention elected politicians would have more influence – increase peer review
‘ Mini’ pre-primary convention: Smaller party convention before primaries to choose up to three nominees. Prospective candidates would need at least 10% of delegates support to be considered
How Important are the Primaries?
Between 1960 & 2004: 12 Presidential elections & 24 major party candidates nominated.
20/24 elections the eventual party nominee was the front runner before primary season
Republicans: All front runners nominated
Democrats: 4 Front runners not successful (Kerry beat Dean, the front runner, in 2004)
Do primaries simply confirm the front runners who emerge during the invisible primary ?
Presidential Elections National Party Conventions Held during July & August ( 4 Days) Attended by delegates chosen at primaries & caucuses
To select the Party’s presidential candidate : Pre-68 reforms, delegates made decision in the convention hall. These days delegates are ‘committed’ before they arrive. It is usually clear who the delegates will nominate BEFORE the convention takes place (as the results of the primaries & caucuses are announced as they progress)
To win candidates need an absolute majority of votes (In 2004 Kerry needed 2162/4322 but had over 2000 delegates 4 months before the convention). Should no candidate win then further ballots take place, with delegates acting as ‘free agents’ until a victor emerges.
The convention confirms rather than selects the candidate. Pre- reform days the convention had an important role to play. Deals were brokered in ‘smoke filled rooms’ by party bosses who controlled the process.
To select the Vice President . In reality the ‘running mate’ has already been chosen before the convention by the Presidential nominee (‘Joint Ticket’)
Deciding the Party Platform : A document containing policies that the presidential candidate will pursue if elected (Contains ‘planks’ which may be debated but parties generally avoid displaying any signs of disagreement & concentrate on a message of party unity). The party platform usually makes general commitments to idealistic goals (democracy, freedom, security etc) and avoids alienating voters.
Party Platforms 1996
‘ We need smaller, more effective, more efficient, less bureaucratic government that reflects our time honoured values. The American people do not want big government solutions and they do not want empty promises. They want a government that is for them, not against them ; that doesn’t interfere with their lives but enhances their quality of life.’
A strong America that protects its citizens and champions their democratic ideals. An America with a vibrant and growing economy that improves the standard of living for all. An America where people feel safe and secure in their homes. An America where our children receive the best education in the world’
Party Unity: Bitter rivalries forgotten, positive image of unity for the public (2000:Senator McCain ‘My friend Governor Bush’)
Launching Presidential Candidate for the Party: Acceptance Speech – prime time – post convention ‘bounce’. (7-8% for challenger, 4% for incumbent party)
Enthusing Party Faithful
The Electoral College
Each state has a number of electoral college votes (e.c.v) based on congressional representation (California (54), Wyoming (3) )
There are 538 electoral college votes in total, candidates need an absolute majority (50%+1) of 270 votes to win
The electoral college votes (carried by delegates) are allocated on a ‘winner takes all basis’ i.e.. 51% vote in a state wins all the ecv’s (apart from 2 states Maine and Nebraska)
The EC established for 2 main reasons
To protect states rights ( disproportionate representation in California & Wyoming)
To protect against the dangers of ‘unrestrained democracy’
The WTA voting system distorts the popular vote (Eg 1996 Clinton =49% pop vote, 70% ecv)
In 2000 Gore lost the ECV despite winning the popular vote.
In 2004 the election was won and lost in Ohio with 20 ecv’s
What if no candidate wins the 270 votes needed ?
The e.c never actually meets – electors meet in state capitals in December & send results to the VP in Washington.
The VP announces the result to a joint session of congress in early Jan.
If no candidate has absolute majority then the president is elected by the House of Reps with each state having one vote.
The VP would be elected by the Senate
Strengths of the E.C
Preserves the representation of smaller population states
Promotes a ‘2 horse race’ & provides winner with a clear mandate to govern (In 66% of presidential elections the winner has gained over 50% of the vote-Bush was first president to achieve this in 2004 since 1988 – Although in ’92,’96 & 2000 the winner won less than 50% of popular vote)
Weaknesses of the E.C
Representation is disproportionate. Small states are over represented. Wyoming has 3 ECV’s for 500,000 people. California has 54 ECV’s for 30,000,000.
If it were truly proportionate California would have 180 ECV’s
The system distorts the result (’96 Clinton won 49% vote but 70% of the ECV’s)
Due to the WTA system used in all states bar 2 and the disproportionate overrepresentation of small states it is possible to win the popular vote but lose the EC vote (Gore in 2000)
Unfair to national 3 rd Parties (’92 Perot gained 19% of popular vote but no ECV’s)
‘ Faithless Voters’ may vote for someone other than the candidate winning the pop. election in that state. (Washington DC in 2000 – shd voted Gore )
If EC was deadlocked possible to have ‘split ticket’
Possible Reforms of EC
Adopt a state-wide proportional system (Maine & Nebraska) - Florida in 2000 (12/13 split) (The Maine system involves awarding one vote for each congressional district won and two votes to the candidate who is the state wide winner)
State-wide laws prohibiting ‘faithless voting’ (Automatic Plan). However, electors could still abstain
Abolish EC altogether - decide election on a popular vote (This would have meant a tight victory for Al Gore in 2000 – 48.4% vs. 47.9%). However, this could worsen the problem experienced in 2000 with the Florida recount. Professor Wayne describes this as the nightmare scenario of ‘Florida times 50’
What are the requirements for a presidential candidate?
Helpful requirements (not required by the constitution)
Political Experience – of the 16 politicians who were nominated as presidential candidates in the last 11 elections to 2004, seven were or had been vice-president, four were senators and five were governors
Major party endorsement – highly unlikely to become President if not a member of the main two parties although Ross Perot did gain 19% of the vote in 1992
Personal characteristics – up till 2004 all presidential candidates for major parties have been white males . There have been no bachelor presidents since the 19 th Century. Marital infidelity could also rule out candidates (Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart both pulled out after scandal) but Bill Clinton survived the Gennifer Flowers allegations and Ronald Reagan was divorced when he won the Presidency)
Ability to raise large sums of money – only billionaires (Ross Perot) can afford to run from their own pockets
Effective Organisation – parties cannot support or aid a presidential candidate
Oratorical skills and being telegenic – (Clinton and Reagan). Would Lincoln or Roosevelt have been successful today?
Sound and relevant policies – Clinton (economy), McCain (campaign finance reform), Dean (war in Iraq)
2000 – 74% Voters declared an affiliation with either party (Although this figure has declined) – 39% called themselves Democrats, 35% Republicans
86% Democrats voted for Gore
91% Republicans voted for Bush
The most successful party in Presidential elections has been the one that has galvanised the most party identifiers rather than ‘converting’ opponent’s supporters (1952/2000 – The party that did this won 11/13 occasions)
Mobilising support and getting voters to the booths is very important
Women are most likely to be registered to vote, turn out in higher numbers and tend to be more supportive of democrats (1964-2000 9/10 elections)
Possibly because of policies;
Law & Order
African-Americans – more likely to vote D since FDR in 1920’s and Kennedy & Johnson passing Civil Rights legislation in 1960’s – also issue of income
Hispanics – Cuban Americans trad support R but Hispanics generally favour Dems (Although growth in Hispanic vote for W.Bush 31% of Hispanic Vote in 2000)
Protestant voters tend to support Republican candidates (prob issue based –abortion, gay marriage, ‘intelligent design’). W.Bush mobilised the support of growing number of Christian fundamentalists
Catholic voters tend to vote Democrat (although abortion confuses this)
Jewish voters solidly pro Democrat
Northeast tends to support Democrat
West Coast also
South now Republican
Midwest now the battleground (Whoever won Missouri won the last 11 elections) –
The Midwest is split and the Key states are Missouri, Michigan & Ohio