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Grant Park

The Democratization of Presidential Elections, 1968–2008

By Candice J. Nelson
Grant Park: The Democratization of Presidential Elections 1968-2

In the forty-year span between 1968 and 2008, the United States underwent great change in nearly every avenue of life—economics, social mores, demographics, technology, and, of course, politics. The way Americans chose Richard Nixon as their president was very different from the way they chose Barack Obama. The process of selecting Obama was more open and inclusive in a number of ways. In Grant Park, Candice J. Nelson examines the democratization of the presidential election process over four turbulent decades.

Nelson examines her topic through the metaphor of Chicago’s famous Grant Park. During the tumultuous Democratic Party convention of 1968, thousands of young people and African Americans rioted in Grant Park after being excluded from the nomination process. In 2008, on the other hand, thousands again jammed the park, but this time they were celebrating the convincing victory of their first African American president.

A lot had to happen in American politics during that forty-year period before Obama could emerge victoriously from the Windy City. In Grant Park, Nelson explains how changes in technology, finance laws, party rules, political institutions, and the electorate itself produced the stunning turnaround, and how presidential selection might change again heading toward November 2012 and beyond.

“The presidential election of 2012 will bear little resemblance to the 1968 election. Americans will have more opportunities to participate in the election, and the electorate will be more diverse. While the campaign finance system continues to challenge the democratization of presidential elections, the overall picture of presidential elections is one much more democratic than demonstrators faced in Grant Park in the summer of 1968.”—From Grant Park

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