Primary politics, fourth edition cover


Primary Politics

Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates, 2024 Presidential Election Edition

Elaine Kamarck
Release Date: July 25, 2023

The 2024 presidential primaries are on the horizon and this fourth edition of Elaine Kamarck’s Primary Politics will be there to help make sense of them. Updated to include the 2020 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 Joe Biden.

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, Fourth 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)

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

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

Elaine C . Kamarck is a senior fellow in Governance Studies and director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution. She is also a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Kamarck is an expert on American electoral politics, government innovation, and government reform in the United States and developing countries. Her previous books include Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again and How Change Happens—or Doesn’t: The Politics of U.S. Public Policy. She served in the Clinton-Gore White House from 1993 to 1997.