Revision of the Presidential Primary System


The Ninety-sixth Congress, like every Congress since 1911, entertained proposals to regulate the presidential nominating process. In all, nearly 300 bills have been introduced over the years. Although no bill has ever passed either house of Congress, more criticism of the nominating system is heard each election season. This criticism has led to recent proposals to reform the presidential primary system, following three different approaches. The first, a regional primary system, would require each state within a given geographic region to hold its primary on the date assigned to its region. The second approach is a timing-oriented system that would require a state to hold its primary on one of several days within a certain period. The period would be shorter than the current primary season. The third type of proposal would establish a direct national primary to be held simultaneously in all states. The proposals vary as to the degree of regulation imposed, and some of the suggested solutions combine various elements of other proposals.

This article will discuss the central policy implications inherent in the regulation of the nominating process, particularly the roles of political parties and the mass media. Constitutional considerations aside, a direct national primary would be destructive of significant goals underlying the nominating process. The regional and timing-oriented proposals likewise fail to satisfy important policy considerations. It is the authors’ opinion that the only acceptable plan for the nomination of presidential candidates is one which combines characteristics of the regional and timing-oriented proposals. Any such changes should be made by the parties and the state governments acting together.

Suggested Reading