Election of the President & Vice President: Primary Election
According to the United States Constitution, a presidential election is to be held once every fourth year. The process of electing a President and Vice-President begins long before Election Day. Candidates from both major and minor political parties and independent candidates begin to raise money and campaign at least one year in advance of the general presidential election. In order to officially represent a political party, a candidate must be nominated by that party.
This primary nomination process is a contest that often produces factions within political parties. These divisions impact the policy stances and agendas of the candidates running for nomination as they attempt to garner the support of party leaders and activists. The nominating process officially begins with the first state primaries and caucuses, which usually occur in the month of February of the election year. It is at these local events that voters are given their first chance to participate in electing the nationís next President.
There are many factors that influence who will ultimately become the candidate for a party. The publicís perception of the candidates is influenced by such things as media reports, public opinion polls, candidate preference surveys, and advertising. These factors will help determine the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the candidates in the months leading up to the caucuses and primaries.
The spring of an election year is characterized by vigorous campaigning for primaries and caucuses all over the nation. This process reaches its crescendo at the national conventions of the political parties. Once at the national party conventions, the delegates from the states cast votes for the person who will represent the political party in the November general election. In order to secure a partyís nomination, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes from the delegates. It is not unusual for delegates to vote several times before one candidate secures the majority of the votes and officially becomes that partyís candidate for the election to determine the next President of the United States. The candidate for President then must choose a vice-presidential candidate. Generally, a running mate is chosen that will in some way balance the partyís ticket for the general election. This balance may be geographic (choosing a running mate that is very popular in one region where the Presidential candidate is not) or ideological (choosing a running mate with a different ideological framework than the presidential candidate), and the balance is intended to make the overall general election ticket of a political party acceptable to as wide a range of voters as possible.
If a President is running for re-election, this nomination process must be completed. Even if the President does not face any opposition from within his own political party, the national convention will still occur. The conventions are extravaganzas, full of pageantry and showmanship. They serve to help jump start the general election campaign for the presidential candidates.