Dr. Eileen Lynch
23. Presidential Elections
Explain the difference between a primary election and a general election.
The textbook defines an election as the procedure by which voters choose, usually among competing candidates, to determine who will hold public office.
A general election is a term employed usually in reference to the difference and contrast of a primary election. In the
This day is a "general election" of sorts because the entire United States House of Representatives is elected on Election Day. However, not the entire United States Congress is elected that day. Prior to the 17th Amendment, members of the United States Senate were not elected at all. And although Senators have been elected since then, only one-third of them are up for election on any given Election Day.
In contrast to a general election, or an election in general, the term “primary election” refers to very specific political process. Prior to 1915, candidates for public office were chosen by quasi-clandestine meetings of politicians or in state conventions. But the many abuses propitiated by this kind of selection process led to reforms by popular demand that had some kind of law to provide primary elections to choose some candidates who would run in statewide contests. Also, party officials could and would be chosen in primaries.
There are several methods of primaries, and the most common one is the closed primary, in which only registered members of a party or people that declare their affiliation with a party can vote. In other states, an open primary is the method in which any voter may participate and vote for one political party’s slate of candidates.
Recently, another form of primary called “blanket primary” was used in four states. This is a system in which any registered voter is able to vote for candidates from more than one party. However, in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that this primary method violated the constitutional right to freedom of association by forcing political parties to allow nonmembers to choose a party’s candidates.
Also, during primaries, delegates for presidential and vice-presidential selection conventions are chosen in some instances. The book informs us that about three-fourths of the delegates to the national conventions were selected in presidential primaries in the year 2004.
Along with primary elections, other methods of candidate selection are still in practice among different states, but in the main, in the United States the method for choosing who will represent each party in the specific contests for the nationwide offices of president and vice-president, and who will represent the interests of each party for its members, is mainly decided with primary elections.
Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson