The constitution does not reference any form of nomination of candidates for US presidency. So before there were political parties a system had to be developed. The founding fathers hoped that electors who were not tied to special interests or the national government would make an independent judgment and choose best suited for the job candidates. This worked for the first two elections like George Washington's two terms. By 1792 partisan alliances began to develop in Congress. Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
That’s why the electors became a partisan contest.
This led to partisan congressional caucuses. This is the least representative because it violates the “spirit of the constitution.” Congress choosing nominees is exactly what the Constitution would not want. But the democratic process was upheld pretty well because it unified people under one or two candidates and then there was a vote from the electors of who was to become president. This particular form of nomination never officially took hold, by 1820 only 20% attended and by 1824 three fourths of the members boycotted the session.
National nominating conventions came about next in 1831 by the Anti-Masons. These conventions were again to throw support behind candidates. But public participation was minimal, again. “Party leaders designated the delegates and made the deals.” (pg 9 The Road to the White House 2008) The conventions had the following purposes, a forum for party leaders, mechanism for agreements and negotiations to have support mobilized, united disparate elements within a party, make a presidential campaign have a platform. The conventions caused a backlash where public participation was demanded, states like Florida and Wisconsin created laws for conventions to elect the electors. This was short lived upto WWI.
This led to the development of primaries. They were “self-fulfilling in the sense that they confirmed the front-runner’s status.” (pg 12) This is easily the most democratic nominating system as well as the representation. It allows for public input at the primary level, but also party support under each candidate to take hold. Oddly enough primaries did not mean the front runner won the election, Dewey and Stevenson are examples of their ability to make come backs. But in 1968 the democratic convention led to rebolstering of primaries as important. It avoided the party “bosses,” and “file and rank politics.” That’s why primaries are also the most representative form of nomination too. If the candidate doesn’t represent what the people want, they aren’t going to make the ballot for the run off election.
The primaries also allow for conventions of sorts to take place. The convention can really be called an extension of the primary because its right before it, and it leads up to it. The selection process then can be generated from the convention and put into the primary. Since the convention allows for any public voice, on a very local level, this allows for increased representation. The primary candidates will then go after the issues generated from the convention, and the primary winners may be a direct result of the platforms. People’s choice is also increased by primaries because it’s an additional election where they can vote. This also suggest why they are more democratic. The more elections you have the more democratic the process is.
Television led to increased media coverage, another key ingredient to why primaries are more democratic and representative – because people now know more about what’s going on before it’s too late. The media has been recognized as the fourth branch of government because it is not controlled by the other three branches and serves as a final check and balance of all three. If the people don’t like what’s going on the media is crucial for coming out with the “smut” or policy practices that the people want to get rid of. “The growth of party organizations at the state and local level affected the nomination system.” (Pg 8) People are more involved, candidates are more responsible to the people instead of just the process and parties.
“Since the 1970s primaries have revolutionized the presidential nomination process. They have been used to build popularity rather than simply reflect it. Challengers can no longer hope to succeed without entering them; incumbents can no longer ignore them.” (pg 13) The impacts are clear, the strategies and tactics involved in getting elected must now develop around the primaries. Your actions during the primary process can decide your place. A New Hampshire primary led to Howard Dean's demise after he yelled and screamed at a rally – which got played on the internet and television non-stop out of context. “The contests for the nomination have shifted power within the parties. They have enlarged the selection zone of potential nominees. They have also made governing more difficult.” (Pg13)
Stephen J. Wayne, The Road to the White House 2008, ISBN 978-0-495-09632-0