Front cover: Primary Politics 3e


Primary Politics

Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates

Elaine Kamarck
Release Date: November 13, 2018

The 2020 presidential primaries are on the horizon and this third edition of Elaine Kamarck’s Primary Politics will be there to help make sense of them. Updated to include the 2016 election, it will once again be the guide to understanding the modern nominating system that gave the American electorate a choice between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.

In Primary Politics, political insider Elaine Kamarck explains how the presidential nomination process became the often baffling system we have today, including the “robot rule.” Her focus is the largely untold story of how presidential candidates since the early 1970s have sought to alter the rules in their favor and how their failures and successes have led to even more change. She describes how candidates have sought to manipulate the sequencing of primaries to their advantage and how Iowa and New Hampshire came to dominate the system. She analyzes the rules that are used to translate votes into delegates, paying special attention to the Democrats’ twenty-year fight over proportional representation and some of its arcana.

Drawing on meticulous research, interviews with key figures in both parties, and years of experience, this book explores one of the most important questions in American politics—how we narrow the list of presidential candidates every four years.

Praise for Primary Politics, Third Edition

“With her updated title Primary Politics, Elaine Kamarck has provided an indispensable guide to the U.S. system of selecting our presidential candidates. This book explains the evolution of our primary system, the effect it has on presidential candidates, and vice versa. Primary Politics is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how our presidential candidates reach the general election.”
—Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States (1993–2001)

“Nobody knows more about the ins and outs of the primary nominating system than Elaine Kamarck. This in-depth update is essential reading because our primary nominating system changes with every presidential election season. In very readable prose, Kamarck shows us how the nominating process has evolved from the party’s control to candidates’ machinations. If you want to be ahead of the curve about the 2020 nominating system, this book is a guide to another electrifying primary season.”
—Donna Brazile, Former Interim Chairwoman, Democratic National Committee

“With the next presidential election on the horizon, those seeking a better understanding of the mechanics as to how, exactly, a presidential nominee is chosen will benefit greatly from Elaine C. Kamarck’s Primary Politics. With a political veteran’s eye and a political scientist’s precision, she lays out the recent history of presidential nominations, and puts forth well-reasoned suggestions for improving the process.”
—James P. Pinkerton, former policy and political aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Praise for previous editions of Primary Politics

“Covering the history of nominations, strategies, front loading, proportional representation rules within each party, delegate counts, and conventions, this comprehensive work addresses questions raised by the American public, undergraduate students, graduate students, and practicing academics and professionals alike. Highly recommended.”

Primary Politics is a highly informative, readable book that will be beneficial to undergraduates and others interested in the evolutionary process of nominating candidates.”
—Timothy Walch, History: Review of Books

“The strength of Kamarck’s book is the detailed information on candidates’ strategies and their attempts to alter the rules of the game. These are the types of stories that undergraduates find fascinating and the ones that should more often be the background for quantitative approaches to the topics of candidate strategies and nomination rules. For younger scholars, the book serves as a good primer on the modern history of presidential nominations.”
—Barbara Norrander, Congress & the Presidency


Elaine C. Kamarck is a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at Brookings and the founding director of the Center for Effective Public Management. She is a public sector scholar with wide experience in government, academia, and politics. Kamarck is an expert on government innovation and reform in the United States, OECD countries, and developing countries. In addition, she focuses her research on the presidential nomination system and American politics and has worked in many American presidential campaigns.

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