|Part of the Politics series|
A primary election is an election that narrows the field of candidates before an election for office. Primary elections are one means by which a political party or a political alliance nominates candidates for an upcoming general election or by-election.
Other methods of selecting candidates include caucuses, conventions, and nomination meetings. Historically, Canadian political parties chose their candidates through nominating conventions held by constituency riding associations. Canadian party leaders are elected at leadership conventions, although some parties have abandoned this practice in favor of one member, one vote systems.
- 1 Types
- 2 Primaries in the United States
- 3 Primaries in Europe
- 4 Primaries worldwide
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Where primary elections are organized by parties, not the administration, two types of primaries can generally be distinguished:
- Closed primary. (synonyms: internal primaries, party primaries) In the case of closed primaries, internal primaries, or party primaries, only party members can vote.
- Open primary. All voters can take part in an open primary and may cast votes on a ballot of any party. The party may require them to express their support to the party's values and pay a small contribution to the costs of the primary.
In the United States, other types can be differentiated:
- Closed primary. People may vote in a party's primary only if they are registered members of that party prior to election day. Independents cannot participate. Note that because some political parties name themselves independent, the terms "non-partisan" or "unaffiliated" often replace "independent" when referring to those who are not affiliated with a political party. Thirteen states — Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota — have closed primaries.
- Semi-closed. As in closed primaries, registered party members can vote only in their own party's primary. Semi-closed systems, however, allow unaffiliated voters to participate as well. Depending on the state, independents either make their choice of party primary privately, inside the voting booth, or publicly, by registering with any party on Election Day. Fifteen states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming — have semi-closed primaries that allow voters to register or change party preference on election day.
- Open primary. A registered voter may vote in any party primary regardless of his own party affiliation. When voters do not register with a party before the primary, it is called a pick-a-party primary because the voter can select which party's primary he or she wishes to vote in on election day. Because of the open nature of this system, a practice known as raiding may occur. Raiding consists of voters of one party crossing over and voting in the primary of another party, effectively allowing a party to help choose its opposition's candidate. The theory is that opposing party members vote for the weakest candidate of the opposite party in order to give their own party the advantage in the general election. An example of this can be seen in the 1998 Vermont senatorial primary with the nomination of Fred Tuttle as the Republican candidate in the general election.
- Semi-open. A registered voter need not publicly declare which political party's primary that they will vote in before entering the voting booth. When voters identify themselves to the election officials, they must request a party's specific ballot. Only one ballot is cast by each voter. In many states with semi-open primaries, election officials or poll workers from their respective parties record each voter's choice of party and provide access to this information. The primary difference between a semi-open and open primary system is the use of a party-specific ballot. In a semi-open primary, a public declaration in front of the election judges is made and a party-specific ballot given to the voter to cast. Certain states that use the open-primary format may print a single ballot and the voter must choose on the ballot itself which political party's candidates they will select for a contested office.
- Blanket primary. A primary in which the ballot is not restricted to candidates from one party.
- Nonpartisan blanket primary. A primary in which the ballot is not restricted to candidates from one party, where the top two candidates advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
There are also mixed systems in use. In West Virginia, where state law allows parties to determine whether primaries are open to independents, Republican primaries are open to independents, while Democratic primaries were closed. However, as of April 1, 2007, West Virginia's Democratic Party opened its voting to allow "individuals who are not affiliated with any existing recognized party to participate in the election process".
Primaries in the United States
In modern politics, primary elections have been described as an important vehicle for taking decision-making from political insiders to the voters, although this is disputed by political science research. State voters start the electoral process for governors and legislators through the primary process, as well as for many local officials from city councilors to county commissioners. The candidate who moves from the primary to be successful in the general election takes public office.
Primaries can be used in nonpartisan elections to reduce the set of candidates that go on to the general election (qualifying primary). (In the U.S., many city, county and school board elections are non-partisan.) Generally, if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, he or she is automatically elected, without having to run again in the general election. If no candidate receives a majority, twice as many candidates pass the primary as can win in the general election, so a single seat election primary would allow the top two primary candidates to participate in the general election following.
When a qualifying primary is applied to a partisan election, it becomes what is generally known as a blanket or Louisiana primary: typically, if no candidate wins a majority in the primary, the two candidates receiving the highest pluralities, regardless of party affiliation, go on to a general election that is in effect a run-off. This often has the effect of eliminating minor parties from the general election, and frequently the general election becomes a single-party election. Unlike a plurality voting system, a run-off system meets the Condorcet loser criterion in that the candidate that ultimately wins would not have been beaten in a two-way race with every one of the other candidates.
Because many Washington residents were disappointed over the loss of their blanket primary, which the Washington State Grange helped institute in 1935, the Grange filed Initiative 872 in 2004 to establish a blanket primary for partisan races, thereby allowing voters to once again cross party lines in the primary election. The two candidates with the most votes then advance to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. Supporters claimed it would bring back voter choice; opponents said it would exclude third parties and independents from general election ballots, could result in Democrat or Republican-only races in certain districts, and would in fact reduce voter choice. The initiative was put to a public vote in November 2004 and passed. On July 15, 2005, the initiative was found unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the Grange's appeal of the case in October 2007. In March 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality the Grange-sponsored Top 2 primary, citing a lack of compelling evidence to overturn the voter-approved initiative.
In elections using voting systems where strategic nomination is a concern, primaries can be very important in preventing "clone" candidates that split their constituency's vote because of their similarities. Primaries allow political parties to select and unite behind one candidate. However, tactical voting is sometimes a concern in non-partisan primaries as members of the opposite party can strategically vote for the weaker candidate in order to face an easier general election.
In California, under Proposition 14 (Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act), a voter-approved referendum, in all races except for that for U.S. President and county central committee offices, all candidates running in a primary election regardless of party will appear on a single primary election ballot and voters may vote for any candidate, with the top two vote-getters overall move on to the general election regardless of party. The effect of this is that it will be possible for two Republicans or two Democrats to compete against each other in a general election if those candidates receive the most primary-election support.
As a result of a federal court decision in Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, the 2011 Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 351 implementing a closed primary system.
In the United States, Iowa and New Hampshire have drawn attention every four years because they hold the first caucus and primary election, respectively, and often give a candidate the momentum to win their party's nomination.
A criticism of the current presidential primary election schedule is that it gives undue weight to the few states with early primaries, as those states often build momentum for leading candidates and rule out trailing candidates long before the rest of the country has even had a chance to weigh in, leaving the last states with virtually no actual input on the process. The counterargument to this criticism, however, is that, by subjecting candidates to the scrutiny of a few early states, the parties can weed out candidates who are unfit for office.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) proposed a new schedule and a new rule set for the 2008 Presidential primary elections. Among the changes: the primary election cycle would start nearly a year earlier than in previous cycles, states from the West and the South would be included in the earlier part of the schedule, and candidates who run in primary elections not held in accordance with the DNC's proposed schedule (as the DNC does not have any direct control over each state's official election schedules) would be penalized by being stripped of delegates won in offending states. The New York Times called the move, "the biggest shift in the way Democrats have nominated their presidential candidates in 30 years."
Of note regarding the DNC's proposed 2008 Presidential primary election schedule is that it contrasted with the Republican National Committee's (RNC) rules regarding Presidential primary elections. "No presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other meeting may be held for the purpose of voting for a presidential candidate and/or selecting delegates or alternate delegates to the national convention, prior to the first Tuesday of February in the year in which the national convention is held." In 2016, this date is February 2.
2012 presidential primary season
The United States is one of the few countries to select candidates through a primary election system; most countries rely on party leaders to vet candidates, as previously happened in the U.S. Candidates for U.S. President who seek their party's nomination participate in primary elections run by state governments, or caucuses run by the political parties. Unlike an election where the only participation is casting a ballot, a caucus is a gathering or "meeting of party members designed to select candidates and propose policies." Both primaries and caucuses are used in the Presidential nomination process, beginning in January and culminating in the late-summer political party conventions. Candidates may earn convention delegates from each state primary or caucus. In 2012, Republican candidates must earn 1144 delegates to receive the GOP nomination for president at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida beginning August 27. Democrats will meet in Charlotte, North Carolina beginning September 3. Because President Barack Obama is the incumbent and defacto Democratic Party leader, it is typical for him not to have serious opposition from within his party.
While it is clear that the closed/semi-closed/semi-open/open classification commonly used by scholars studying primary systems does not fully explain the highly nuanced differences seen from state to state, still, it is very useful and has real-world implications for the electorate, election officials, and the candidates themselves.
As far as the electorate is concerned, the extent of participation allowed to weak partisans and independents depends almost solely on which of the aforementioned categories best describes their state's primary system. Clearly, open and semi-open systems favor this type of voter, since they can choose which primary they vote in on a yearly basis under these models. In closed primary systems, true independents are, for all practical purposes, shut out of the process.
This classification further affects the relationship between primary elections and election commissioners and officials. The more open the system, the greater the chance of raiding, or voters voting in the other party's primary in hopes of getting a weaker opponent chosen to run against a strong candidate in the general election. Raiding has proven stressful to the relationships between political parties, who feel cheated by the system, and election officials, who try to make the system run as smoothly as possible.
Perhaps the most dramatic effect this classification system has on the primary process is its influence on the candidates themselves. Whether a system is open or closed dictates the way candidates run their campaigns. In a closed system, from the time a candidate qualifies to the day of the primary, he must cater to strong partisans, who tend to lean to the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum. In the general election, on the other hand, the candidate must move more towards the center in hopes of capturing a plurality.
Daniel Hannan, a British politician and Member of the European Parliament, claimed, "Open primaries are the best idea in contemporary politics. They shift power from party hierarchs to voters, from Whips to backbenchers and from ministers to Parliament. They serve to make legislatures more diverse and legislators more independent."
Primaries in Europe
In Europe, primaries are not organized by the public administration but by parties themselves. Legislation is mostly silent on primaries. The main reason to this is that the voting method used to form governments, be it proportional representation or two-round systems, lessens the need for an open primary. Party fragmentation reduces wasted votes and does not hamper the chances to win, like in single-winner elections. Coalitions can be formed before (Sweden) or afterwards (Netherlands).
Governments are not involved in the process, however, parties may need their cooperation, notably in the case of an open primary, e.g. to obtain the electoral roll, or to cover the territory with a sufficient number of polling stations.
Whereas closed primaries are rather common within many European countries, few political parties in Europe already opted for open primaries. Parties generally organise primaries to nominate the party leader (leadership election). The underlying reason for that is that most European countries are parliamentary democracies. National governments are derived from the majority in the Parliament, which means that the head of the government is generally the leader of the winning party. France is one exception to this rule.
Closed primaries happen in many European countries, while open primaries have so far only occurred in the socialist and social-democratic parties in Greece and Italy, whereas the France's Socialist Party organised the first open primary in France in October 2011.
One of the more recent developments is organizing primaries on the European level. European parties that organized primaries so far were European Green Party (EGP) and Party of European Socialists (PES).
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In Italy, the first open primaries took place on the 16th October 2005. It led to the designation of Romano Prodi as leader of the Olive Tree coalition, which gathered several center and left-wing parties, for the legislative elections of the 9th and 10th April 2006. Romano Prodi won the election, but his small advance in the Senate (two seats) helped the Upper house pass a vote of no-confidence two years later.
In France, elections follow a two-round system. In the first round, all candidates who have qualified (for example, by obtaining a minimal number of signatures of support from elected officials) are on the ballot. In practice, each candidate usually represents a political party, large or small. In the second round, held two weeks later, the top two candidates run against each other, with the candidates from losing parties usually endorsing one of the two finalists.
The means by which the candidate of an established political party is selected has evolved. Until 2012, none of the six Presidents elected through direct election faced a competitive internal election.
- In 2007, Sarkozy, President of the UMP, organized an approval "primary" without any opponent. He won by 98% and made his candidacy speech thereafter.
- On the left however, the Socialist Party, which helped Mitterrand gain the Presidency for 14 years, has been plagued by internal divisions since the latter departed from politics. Rather than forming a new party, which is the habit on the right-wing, the party started to elect its nominee internally.
- A first try in 1995: Lionel Jospin won the nomination three months before the election. He lost in the run-off to Chirac. Later in 2002, although the candidacy of then-PM Jospin was undisputed in his party, each of the 5 left-wing parties of the government he led sent a candidate... paving the way for a loss of all five.
- The idea made progress coming near the 2007 race, once the referendum on a European constitution was over. The latter showed strong ideological divisions within the left-wing spectrum, and the Socialist Party itself. This prevented the possibility of a primary spanning the whole left-wing, that would give its support to a presidential candidate. Given that no majority supported either a leader or a split, a registration campaign, enabling membership for only 20 euros, and a closed primary was organized, which Ségolène Royal won. She qualified to the national run-off that she lost to Sarkozy.
- In 2011, the Socialist Party decided to organise the first ever open primary in France to pick up the Socialist party and the Radical Party of the Left nominee for the 2012 presidential election. Inspired by the 2008 U.S. primaries, it was seen as a way to reinvigorate the party. The idea was first proposed by Terra Nova, an independent left-leaning think tank, in a 2008 report. It was also criticized for going against the nature of the regime. The open primary was not state-organized : the party took charge of all the electoral procedures, planning to set up 10,000 voting polls. All citizens on the electoral rolls, party members of Socialist party and the Radical Party of the Left, and members of the parties' youth organisation (MJS and JRG), including minors of 15 to 18 years old, were entitled to vote in exchange of a euro to cover the costs. More than 3 million people participated in this first open primary, which was considered a success, and former party leader François Hollande was designated the Socialist and Radical candidate for the 2012 presidential election.
- Other parties organize membership primaries to choose their nominee, such as Europe Ecologie – Les Verts (EE-LV) (2006, 2011), and the French Communist Party in 2011.
- At the local level, membership primaries are the rule for Socialist Party's candidates, but these are usually not competitive. In order to tame potential feud in his party, and prepare the ground for a long campaign, Sarkozy pushed for a closed primary in 2006 to designate the UMP candidate for the 2008 election of the Mayor of Paris. Françoise de Panafieu was elected in a four-way race. However, she did not clinch the mayorship two years later.
For the 2010 general election, the Conservative Party used open primaries to select two candidates. Further open primaries will be used to select some Conservative candidates for the 2015 general election, and there are hopes other parties may nominate future candidates in this way.
- Only three parties organised an open primary: France (PS), Greece (ΠΑΣΟΚ), Italy (PD)
- Closed primary happened in nine parties: Belgium (sp.a, PS), Cyprus (ΕΔΕΚ), Denmark (SD), France (PS) until 2011, Ireland (LP), Netherlands (PvdA), Portugal (PS), United Kingdom (Labour)
The case of UK's Labour party leadership election is specific, as three electoral colleges, each accounting for one third of the votes, participate in this primary election: Labour members of Parliament and of the European Parliament, party members and members of affiliated organisations such as trade unions.
- The designation of the party leader was made by the party's congress in the eighteen remaining parties: Austria (SPÖ), Bulgaria (БСП), Czech Republic (ČSSD), Estonia (SDE), Finland (SDP), Germany (SPD), Hungary (MSZP), Latvia (LSDSP), Lithuania (SDPL), Luxembourg (LSAP), Malta (LP), Poland (SLD, UP), Rumania (PSD), Slovakia (SMER-SD), Slovenia (SD), Spain (PSOE), Sweden (SAP), United-Kingdom / Northern Ireland (SDLP)
Indeed, the Lisbon treaty, which entered into force in December 2009, lays down that the outcome of elections to the European Parliament must be taken into account in selecting the President of the Commission; the Commission is in some respects the executive branch of the EU and so its president can be regarded as the EU prime minister. Parties are therefore encouraged to designate their candidates for Commission president ahead of the next election in 2014, in order to allow voters to vote with a full knowledge of the facts. Many movements are now asking for primaries to designate these candidates.
- Already in April 2004, a former British conservative MEP, Tom Spencer, advocated for American-style primaries in the European People's Party: "A series of primary elections would be held at two-week intervals in February and March 2009. The primaries would start in the five smallest countries and continue every two weeks until the big five voted in late March. To avoid swamping by the parties from the big countries, one could divide the number of votes cast for each candidate in each country by that country's voting weight in the Council of Ministers. Candidates for the post of president would have to declare by 1 January 2009."
- In July 2013 European Green Party (EGP) announced that it will run a first ever European-wide open primary as the preparation for the European elections in 2014. It will be open to all citizens of the EU over the age of 16 who "support green values" They will finally elect two transnational candidates who will be the face of the common campaign of the European green parties united in the EGP. The candidates elected in the primary will run for the role of the European Commission president.
- Following the defeat of the Party of European Socialists during the European elections of June 2009, the PES Congress that took place in Prague in December 2009 made the decision that PES would designate its own candidate before the 2014 European elections. A Campaign for a PES primary was then launched by PES supporters in June 2010, and it managed to convince the PES Council meeting in Warsaw in December 2010 to set up Working Group "Candidate 2014" in charge of proposing a procedure and timetable for a "democratic" and "transparent" designation process "bringing on board all our parties and all levels within the parties".
The European think-tank Notre Europe also evokes the idea that European political parties should designate their candidate for Vice-president / High representative of the Union for foreign affairs. This would lead European parties to have "presidential tickets" on the American model.
Finally, the European Parliament envisaged to introduce a requirement for internal democracy in the regulation on the statute of European political parties. European parties would therefore have to involve individual members in the major decisions such as designating the presidential candidate.
- United States presidential primary.
- Primary elections in Italy.
- Uruguay, since 1999.
- United New Democratic Party (South Korea, 2007).
- United Kingdom
- Armenia. In an innovation on 2007 November 24 and 25, one political party conducted a non-binding Armenia-wide primary election. The party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, invited the public to vote to advise the party which of two candidates they should formally nominate for President of Armenia in the subsequent official election. What characterized it as a primary instead of a standard opinion poll was that the public knew of the primary in advance, all eligible voters were invited, and the voting was by secret ballot. "Some 68,183 people . . . voted in make-shift tents and mobile ballot boxes . . ."
- Colombia In 2006, the Liberal Party and the socialist Democratic Pole hold primary elections, electing Horacio Serpa as liberal candidate and Carlos Gaviria as candidate of the Democratic Pole. For 2010 presidential electiones, four parties held primary elections: The Liberal Party elected former minister Rafael Pardo as candidate, the Democratic Pole elected senator Gustavo Petro, the Conservative Party chose ambassador Noemi Sanin and the Green Party chose former mayor of Bogota Antanas Mockus.
- Republic of China (Taiwan): The Democratic Progressive Party selects all its candidates via opinion polls. The candidate with the highest poll rating will be nominated. The KMT selects candidates using a combination of opinion polls (worth 70%) and primary elections (worth 30%).
- Sore-loser law, which states that the loser in a primary election cannot thereafter run as an independent in the general election
- Thomas W. Williams (Los Angeles), opposed the direct primary, 1915
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