The Primary Rules

Parties, Voters, and Presidential Nominations
Caitlin E. Jewitt
The primary rules set by political parties limit voter influence, but do not always work as parties expected


Reflecting on 2016, it might seem that the national parties have little control over how the presidential nominations unfold and who becomes their presidential candidate. Yet the parties wield more influence than voters in determining who prevails at the National Conventions. Although the reforms of the late 1960s and 1970s gave rank-and-file party members a clear voice in the selection of presidential candidates, the parties retain influence through their ability to set the electoral rules. Despite this capability, party elites do not always fully understand the consequences of the rules and therefore often promote a system that undermines their goals. The Primary Rules illuminates the balance of power that the parties, states, and voters assert on the process. By utilizing an original, comprehensive data set that details the electoral rules each party employed in each state during every nomination from 1976 to 2016, Caitlin E. Jewitt uncovers the effects of the rules on the competitiveness of the nomination, the number of voters who participate, and the nomination outcomes. This reveals how the parties exert influence over their members and limit the impact of voters. The Primary Rules builds on prior analyses and extends work highlighting the role of the parties in the invisible primary stage, as it investigates the parties’ influence once the nominations begin. The Primary Rules provides readers with a clearer sense of what the rules are, how they have changed, their consequences, and practical guidance on how to modify the rules of the nomination system to achieve their desired outcomes in future elections.

“The presidential nomination field is in need of longer works that discuss and interweave the various complex elements of the process. Jewitt fills in important information on how rules matter in presidential nomination politics.”
—Barbara Norrander, University of Arizona

“Both ambitious in scope and attentive to detail, The Primary Rules will find a place on the bookshelf of every serious scholar of the presidential nomination process. Caitlin Jewitt’s careful scholarship points out that while elite endorsements may not always matter, rules (more subtly) do. And since parties weave the net of regulations that enmesh the process, they have lasting influence.”
—Dante Scala, University of New Hampshire
Caitlin E. Jewitt is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Jewitt invaluably sets the stage for future research on an important and understudied topic of the effects and complexity of nomination contest rules." 
    Political Science Quarterly
  • "Jewitt’s book is thorough and can serve as a good introduction, for students, to the Byzantine primary election process...Recommended."
    --Choice Reviews

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Watch: Caitlin Jewitt speaks about her book on WFXR's Living Local Link | 5/14/2019
Read: Caitlin Jewitt writes about parties and presidential primaries on the London School of Economic’s US American Politics and Policy blog Link
Watch: Caitlin Jewitt discusses her book at an ASPECT Books event on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg VA Link | 3/6/2019
Read/Listen: Caitlin Jewitt interviewed on WVTF Virginia on how political parties control elections Link | 3/1/2019
Read/Listen: Caitlin Jewitt interviewed on WVTF Virginia on how the new congressional map favors Democrats for now Link | 3/1/2019

Product Details

  • 320 pages.
  • 33 figures, 31 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12459-6

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  • Presidential nomination; primary; caucus; super delegates; Republican Party; Democratic Party; frontloading; electoral rules; McGovern-Fraser Commission; National Conventions; voter turnout