Skip to main content
ABC News
How The Modern Primary System Has Shaped Our Politics

The way we choose our presidential candidates in the United States is unique among the world’s democracies. In other countries, party leadership often plays a much bigger role in choosing candidates. As we discussed in the first installment of The Primaries Project, the parties initially held a lot of power in nominating processes, but everything changed after the disastrous 1968 Democratic national convention in Chicago. Although somewhat unintended, the reforms following that convention created a candidate selection system more open to public input than ever before.

At first blush, allowing for greater public input may seem like the most democratic thing to do — but there is more to a well-functioning democracy than whether people have the opportunity to vote. The quality of the system also depends on its design. How does the voting process seek to find a consensus across the many interests in a party or a nation? In the second installment of The Primaries Project on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, we examine the consequences of the post-1968 reforms:

To understand how our modern system shapes our presidential candidates, we look at elections from three periods: first, the 1970s, when the reforms were relatively new and the parties and candidates were still figuring them out. Next, the ’80s and ’90s, when the parties got a handle on the rules and used them to promote their preferred candidates. And last, the modern era, when for a variety of reasons, the parties have begun to lose their grip again.

Click play above to hear that story or subscribe to the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast. Check back throughout the month of January as we explore how we choose presidential candidates in America.

Do Parties Or Voters Choose Presidential Nominees?

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

Galen Druke is FiveThirtyEight’s podcast producer and reporter.

Jake Arlow is a former producer for FiveThirtyEight.