Nominating a Presidential Candidate: The Process & Its Strengths & Weaknesses

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  • 0:03 Presidential Nominations
  • 1:08 Announcement
  • 1:33 Nomination Campaign
  • 2:34 Caucuses & Primaries
  • 5:27 National Party Convention
  • 8:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The nomination process for United States president contains several different steps. This lesson outlines the modern nomination process for the offices of president and vice president and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the process.

Presidential Nominations

Meet Carla. Carla has decided she'd like to run for United States president! That means Carla hopes to be a presidential candidate. So what should Carla do in order to become a presidential candidate?

Typically, political parties determine their presidential candidates. A political party is a group of people who organize to win elections, operate government, and influence public policy. Though there are several different recognized political parties in the U.S., the Democratic and Republican parties are currently the main parties holding roles in our federal government.

Each political party uses their own nomination process, so the process varies between parties. Each party's national committee sets its nomination rules.

Let's say Carla is a member of the Cauliflower political party. She should familiarize herself with the Cauliflower party's nomination process if she wants to be the Cauliflower presidential candidate.

Announcement and Nomination Campaign

First, Carla will announce her candidacy. Sometimes the announcement is a formal event, with live media coverage. This is often the case when the candidate already holds some sort of political office or is otherwise well-known.

Once Carla officially announces her candidacy, she'll want to begin campaigning for her party's nomination. The candidate's announcement kicks off the candidate's official campaign. She'll likely make public appearances, make speeches, and begin publicizing her 'platform,' or specific political views. She might even participate in debates against other Cauliflower candidates.

This portion of the campaign is known as the nomination campaign because it's an effort to secure a specific political party's nomination. The campaign is meant to win the support of delegates. Delegates are people who represent a national political party at that party's national convention and have the power to select that party's presidential nominee. We'll discuss national conventions in a bit. Just keep in mind that Carla will gear her nomination campaign toward the Cauliflower delegates while hopefully gaining name recognition and positive support from the general voting population.

Caucuses and Primaries

Next, Carla will participate in the various caucuses and primary elections taking place in the individual states. Here, the general voting public helps choose each party's presidential candidate. Carla will focus on the state elections before she focuses on the nationwide election, because if she doesn't win her party's nomination through the state elections, she won't be moving on.

A handful of states, including Iowa and Maine, use caucuses to determine a political party's presidential nominee. This is the older, traditional method of selecting a candidate. A caucus is a state gathering of political party members in order to select candidates for office.

Not everyone is invited to a caucus, and that is the subject of some criticism regarding the fairness of the process. Caucus participants are mostly high-level political party leaders who are chosen in hopes that they will best represent the wants and needs of the other party members. The participants meet in person and debate the merits of each candidate before voting to select a presidential nominee.

Most states instead use primaries. A primary election is a preliminary election used to determine a party's nominee for a specific office. This is a newer method for selecting nominees, which was only solidified for use in presidential elections in the 1970s. It's widely thought to be the fairer and more inclusive of the two methods.

Rules regarding primaries vary from state to state. Generally, the entire voting public can participate. Each registered voter usually gets one primary vote, so the voter must choose the party's primary in which he or she wishes to participate.

For example, let's say Carla's friend Claire is a registered Democrat. In some states, this means Claire can only vote in the Democratic primary. However, in other states, Claire may choose to vote in the Cauliflower primary as long as she doesn't also participate in another primary.

The winner of the party's caucus, or primary, wins the party's nomination for that state. Let's say Carla wins the Cauliflower nomination after Iowa's Cauliflower caucus. This means the Iowa delegates will vote in favor of Carla's presidential nomination at the Cauliflower national party convention. Carla wants to win the support of most Cauliflower delegates so that she can be the Cauliflower party's presidential nominee.

National Party Conventions

A political party's nominee for president is announced at that party's national party convention. Each political party hosts a national party convention. The convention is a formal gathering of all party delegates from all states, typically held the summer before a presidential election. The Democratic and Republican national conventions are large, televised events.

At the convention, the delegates officially cast their votes in favor of the party's presidential nominee. That nominee will usually address the audience to formally present the nominee's platform, or party plans, for the upcoming general election. The general election is the main election, where the general voting public chooses between political parties' presidential nominees.

However, prior to the general election, the political party must also formally nominate someone as vice president. Typically, the presidential nominee chooses his or her own preferred running mate. This is often done prior to the convention, though the formal announcement of the running mate is often saved for the fanfare of the convention. Either way, the party delegates must officially vote that person to be the party's vice presidential nominee.

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