In a primary election, candidates of the same party run against one another to get that party's nomination.
Voters in primary elections are the selectorate (a selection of the electorate; the selectorate tends to be more ideologically extreme than the electorate). In a general election, winners of primary elections run against one another. Voters in general elections are the electorate.
Third-party candidates are mostly individuals who have latched onto a party since it is easier to run as an individual when backed by a party.
However, no party has as substantial a structure as with Republicans and Democrats. Also, an advantage of an individual running as a third-party candidate is that getting 5% of electorate this time results in federal funding during the next election.
Fundamentally, there are two kinds of primaries: closed primaries and open primaries:
Participation in primaries is much lower than in the general election. The selectorate is generally more ideologically extreme than the electorate and also has a higher level of political participation. Thus, in the general election, voters choice between ideologically extreme candidates. Most voters are faced with a Democrat way more liberal than they are and a Republican way more conservative than they are.
In Closed Primaries, the Democratic party would hand you a list of Democrats and you could vote for your favorite.
Similarly, in Republican closed primaries you are given a list of fellow Republicans to nominate. Also, in closed primaries only members of that party can vote. Only a Republican can vote in a Republican closed primary and only Democrats can vote in a Democrat closed primary. Closed primaries produce more ideologically extreme candidates.
In Open Primaries, anybody can vote to choose the party's nomination.Open primaries are good for non-affiliated people. However, sometimes registered Democrats who vote in a Republican closed primary are automatically registered as Republicans and vice-versa. Open primaries produce more ideologically moderate candidates.
In addition to a more extreme selectorate, other factors producing extreme candidates are the influence of political parties and redistricting.
Political parties influence the extremity of candidates due to a preference for extreme and reliable candidates over moderates. Thus, resources from political parties are used to help elect more extreme candidates. Redistricting influences the extremity of political candidates by drawing political parties. By redrawing districts to protect incumbents, the majority party can protect itself. For example, one district might be entirely Republican and the other entirely Democrat.
Redistricting guarantees that there will be one Republican and one Democrat in the assembly. However, this means that an elected extreme candidate is very difficult to unseat. For example, California's 24th Congressional District (just NW of here) always returns a Republican member of congress. California's 23rd Congressional District (just W of 24th, very skinny and sliver-like) always returns a Democrat. So redistricting is where districts are drawn to have a certain candidate re-elected over and over. Redistricting occurs every ten years or as need be.
Origins of primaries
In the early years of the Republic, party nominees were selected by elite members in Congress.
Insiders with national experience were usually chosen. However, in the early 1900's nominees began getting elected at national conventions by party bosses.
Bosses of Republican and Democrat parties chose candidates who were personally weak so that the party bosses could influence them. The party bosses were local party bosses who would get together and choose somebody. They liked being party bosses in their individual areas. The presidency was not the pinnacle at that time.
However, primaries and caucuses became essential during the 1960's. The Vietnam war was becoming extremely unpopular. People were leaning toward Gene McCarthy as the Democrat nominee. He won the largely symbolic primaries, but Heubert Humphry entered no primaries and won the nomination. Humphry lost to Nixon and Democrats were furious. The McGovern-Frasier commission was established in response. The process we have now is a direct descend of the reforms it brought.
The McG-F commission said that candidates must run in caucuses or primaries and win delegates, and the delegates meet at a national convention to cast their votes for the nominee. Super-delegates are persons already elected to any office. This includes presidents, governors, senators, representatives and even a 21 year old who served on RNCC. These super-delegates add stability to the process. The candidate with the most delegates wins the nomination. This process gives ordinary voters more power in the election process.
In a caucus, a group of people meet in a school or other hall and everybody talks about which candidate they support. At some point in time, everybody splits into different room and they count who has the most support.
Previously, party leaders chose candidates, but since the 1960's primary elections have been the norm.
Representation in California is shown in the graph below. Y-axis (up and down) = ideology of individual members of the Assembly (just measures the ideology, or how ideologically extreme, of a candidate). X-axis (side to side) = percentage of district who voted for the Republican Presidential candidate (Light circles are Republicans, dark circles are Democrats).
Moderates have disappeared from California's state assembly. Each dot is a district. These graphs do not represent the electorate, but instead it is just that the more ideologically extreme voters vote representatives into office. This makes conservative Democrats go Republican and liberal Republicans go Democrat.
Before all of this, however, comes the invisible primary. In the invisible primary, candidates seek the support of party insiders. Candidates go around before primaries and start raising money and getting party insiders to commit resources to their candidacy. It is called the invisible primary because the media gives very little attention to it and because there is no outside involvement and it happens below the radar. However, it is about a year before the primary season ever begins and is a very big struggle.
Large-scale party support is not nearly as important as it used to be. According to some theorists, most important now is tapping into grassroots organizations, communication among people and all else. However, invisible primaries dictate who is even going to run. Winning the invisible primary is known by who initially raises the most money and has the most endorsements.
Iowa and New Hampshire
After primary season begins, all attention turns to Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa is the first caucus and New Hampshire is the first primary. In order to cinch the nomination, a candidate must win both states. People who lose in Iowa generally just drop out -- although sometimes, rarely, will stay strong after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. A complaint that arises from this is that neither state is representative of the entire population.
1) Iowa: (2006)
a) White persons (IOWA) 94.6% (USA) 80.1%
b) Black persons (IOWA) 2.5% (USA) 12.8%
c) Hispanic/Latino (IOWA) 3.8% (USA) 14.8%
2) New Hampshire: (2006)
a) White persons (NH) 95.8% (USA) 80.1%
b) Black persons (NH) 1.1% (USA) 12.8%
c) Hispanic/Latino (NH) 2.3% (USA) 14.8%
States such as Florida and Michigan are upset abut the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire have. These two states move their primaries closer to the beginning, thus upsetting the Democratic party. This is because having the first primaries and caucuses in small states has advantages that are clarified by wholesale vs retail politics.
Wholesale vs retail politics
Wholesale politics has arisen because it is impossible to go door-to-door with everybody. Wholesale means of communicating with voters includes commercials, news media, TV appearances and debates.
Retail politics is essentially door-to-door politics where a candidate lets people ask questions and meet in small groups. Retail politics is great in small states because it shows how people respond up-close-and-personal to candidates. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, candidates must pursue door-to-door retail politics. Survival of a candidate via retail politics legitimates investment in a candiate via wholesale politics.