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All About Primary Elections

 Last week’s primary elections have prompted us to look at the ever fascinating and complicated US election system. For decades, the New Hampshire primary, the first in the presidential election cycle, has proven a testing ground for candidates. A poor showing can drastically change a candidate’s fortune, leading candidates to dedicate a lot of time and energy to wooing voters in the Granite State and other localities with early primaries.  


States with late primary dates sometimes find themselves effectively left out of the process as nominations are decided before their primaries come around. Over the years, this has lead states moving around their primary dates in an effort to jockeying for attention and influence. Known as “front-loading”, this practice has been criticized for giving an unfair advantage to some candidates. 


Looking for more information on this and other issues surrounding primaries? The Congressional Research Service has compiled a FAQ  on the nomination and convention process which is a good place to start. Additionally, their Presidential Nominating Process: Current Issues and Contemporary Developments in Presidential Elections reports provide an over view of the issues and complications of the primary process.


The University Libraries have several of books discussing all aspects of the primary process, including:


Getting Primaried: The Changing Politics of Congressional Primary Challenges by Robert G. Boatright. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013. University Library / JK 1976 B573 2013.


The Imperfect Primary: Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics by Barbara Norrander. New York: Routledge, 2010. University Library / JK 522 N67 2010.


From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America’s Broken Presidential Nomination Process by Thomas Gangale. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008. University Library / JK 522 G36 2008.


The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform by Marty Cohen, et al. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c2008. University Library / JK 521 P37 2008.


The Money Primary: The New Politics of the Early Presidential Nomination Process by Michael J. Goff. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, c2004. University Library / JK 521 G64 2004.


The Front-Loading Problem in Presidential Nominations by William G. Mayer and Andrew E. Busch. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, c2004. University Library / JK 2071 M39 2004.


Meet the Candidate Videos: Analyzing Presidential Primary Campaign Videocassettes by John H. Parmelee. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. University Library / JF 2112 A4 P285 2003.


The Primary Decision: A Functional Analysis of Debates in Presidential Primaries by William L. Benoit, et al. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. University Library / JK 2071 P75 2002.


Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System by Elaine C. Kamarck. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, c2009. University Library / JK 521 K36 2009.


There are several resources available for election results. The House’s Office of the Clerk] provides official results for federal elections from 1920 to present. Every two years the Federal Election Commission publishes a compilation of the official, certified federal election results obtained from each state’s election office and other official sources, including primary, runoff and general election results for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and presidential elections. New York State election results are available from the State Board of Elections, as are enrollment statistics and the text of all state election laws.


For more information on this and other public administration and policy topics, contact subject specialist Dick Irving at or 442-3698.


Post created by Cary Gouldin

Photo: Ballot Box from Selje, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. Photo by Thomas Bjørkan. CC BY-SA 3.0 []. Size reduced and cropped.

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