The Imperfect Primary: Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics (Paperback) book cover

The Imperfect Primary

Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics

By Barbara Norrander

© 2011 – Routledge

158 pages

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Paperback: 9780415995771
pub: 2010-07-06
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pub: 2010-07-06
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Recognized as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2011!

Many people complain about the complex system used to nominate presidents. The system is hardly rational because it was never carefully planned. Because of the dissatisfaction over the idiosyncrasies of the current system, periodic calls arise to reform the presidential nomination process. But how are we to make sense of the myriad complexities in the system as well as in the calls for change?

In The Imperfect Primary, political scientist Barbara Norrander explores how presidential candidates are nominated, discusses past and current proposals for reform, and examines the possibility for more practical, incremental changes to the electoral rules. Norrander reminds us to be careful what we wish for—reforming the presidential nomination process is as complex as the current system. Through the modeling of empirical research to demonstrate how questions of biases can be systematically addressed, students can better see the advantages, disadvantages, and potential for unintended consequences in a whole host of reform proposals.


"Barbara Norrander, a leading scholar of presidential politics, has synthesized much of the theory, practice, and controversy surrounding contemporary presidential nominations in her book, The Imperfect Primary. As the title suggests, the process, as it has evolved over the years, has both contributed to and detracted from America's democratic electoral process. Norrander explains succinctly and clearly how and why it has done so. Her study will inform both introductory and advanced students."

Stephen J. Wayne, Georgetown University

This is a compact and readable analysis of the quirky U.S. presidential nomination system. Political junkies will value the figures and tables that provide a comprehensive overview of various aspects of the primary process, such as candidate fundraising and delegate counts. Students will appreciate the emphasis on issues of fairness and reform."

Linda L. Fowler, Dartmouth College

"Barbara Norrander takes readers on a masterful tour of the often daunting intricacies of the presidential nomination process. She presents a clear and concise account of its origins, current configuration, and strengths and weaknesses as a way of selecting national leaders. For anyone wanting to know more about this singular, crucial process, her book is the first place to look."

Gary Jacobson, University of California San Diego

"Barbara Norrander has written a fine book that analyzes the nature of the presidential nomination system, nicely organized around what she calls "oddities and biases" as well as "strengths." These she presents clearly and with remarkable balance. This analysis, as well as her equally clear and careful consideration of reforms and alternatives, will serve admirably not only her goal of helping students think through this complex set of considerations but will also do likewise for scholars and an interested public alike."

John Aldrich, Duke University

'The Imperfect Primary is a very complete and concise review of the history of US presidential nominations, criticisms, and reform proposals. […] This book is an extremely clear overview of presidential primaries and deserves recognition as a definitive reference. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.' - M. L. Godwin, University of La Verne

Table of Contents

1. Happenstance and Reforms 2. Presidential Nomination Politics at the Dawn of the 21st Century 3. Is This a Fair Way to Select a Presidential Nominee? 4. Alternative Methods for Nominating Presidents 5. Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics

About the Author

Barbara Norrander is a Professor in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. She has been writing about presidential nominations since the early 1980s.

About the Series

Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation

The Routledge series Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation presents cutting edge scholarship and innovative thinking on a broad range of issues relating to democratic practice and theory. An electoral democracy, to be effective, must show a strong relationship between representation and a fair open election process. Designed to foster debate and challenge assumptions about how elections and democratic representation should work, titles in the series present a strong but fair argument on topics related to elections and the institutions shaping them, voting behavior, party and media involvement, representation, and democratic theory.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / Elections
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / Executive Branch