Selecting the US presidential candidates: a short guide to the primary system

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The selection of the Republican and Democratic candidates for November’s US presidential election, beginning on Monday with the Iowa Caucus, will be followed with interest around the world. Daniel Goldstein and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson explain how an eclectic mix of caucuses, primaries and superdelegates will decide who gets to run for the White House.

Ten months out from the US presidential election and, amidst one of the most unpredictable presidential election campaigns in recent memory, the process of selecting the Democratic and Republican nominees via state-level primaries and caucuses will begin on February 1 with the Iowa Caucus. A splintered Republican Party currently has two frontrunners for the nomination, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom lack support from current party leaders. Further, the seemingly inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton looks less assured as younger Democrats are supporting the distinctly more liberal Bernie Sanders, with recent polls showing Sanders could win the first two contests (Iowa and New Hampshire). The nomination season will serve to gauge the legitimacy of candidates with the voting public.

The process of selecting the party’s nominee is relatively straightforward. The two major parties allocate a certain number of ‘delegates’ to each of the 50 states and territories in which there are contests. Delegates are then allocated to candidates based on the results of state-level voting.  Delegates cast their vote for a candidate during their party’s national convention where the official party nominee for president is selected. To win the nomination, a candidate must win a majority of delegates. In 2016, the Republican nominee will require 1,237 of 2,472 total delegates and the Democratic nominee will require 2,383 of 4,764 delegates. This year the Iowa Caucus will have 52 Democratic delegates and 30 Republican delegates at stake.  Should Clinton, for example, win Iowa she will receive a plurality of the 52 delegates (but almost certainly not all 52), who will then be ‘bound’ to vote for her at the Democratic National Convention held in July of this year.

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Britain’s new political class: All change in the House?

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Researchers on the Parliamentary Candidates UK project have spent the past two years collecting data on the social background of candidates standing at the 2015 general election, as well as building a retrospective dataset going back to 1945. Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson discusses the project, the questions it raises and what the data tell us about the composition of the new parliament.

For the past two years, the Parliamentary Candidates UK project has collected data on the social background of candidates standing in the 2015 general election as well as building retrospective dataset for candidates since 1945. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the aim of the project is to provide a comprehensive, electronic, publicly available dataset on who is selected and who is elected. To this end, we will publish our dataset for 2015 Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and Green candidates later this month, with the retrospective data published over the course of 2016.

But the project was always more than just a data collection exercise: fundamentally, it is a project that seeks to know who stands for parliament at Westminster, who gets elected and whether socio-demographic characteristics influence electoral outcomes or career trajectories.

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UK elects most diverse parliament ever but it’s still not representative

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Jennifer Hudson and Rosie Campbell assess the diversity of the new parliament and write that while the Class of 2015 has more female and BME MPs, it is still a long way from being descriptively representative of the population it serves.

Ahead of the 2015 election, broadcaster Jeremy Paxman argued that voters were being given a choice ‘between one man who was at primary school with Boris Johnson and one man who was at secondary school with him – both of whom did PPE at Oxford’.

Throughout the campaign, we’ve been gathering data on the parliamentary candidates to see if this lack of choice plays out across the board. Do the people elected to represent the UK, bear any resemblance to the public they represent?

Women on the rise

This year saw 48 more women elected that in 2010 – bringing the total number of women MPs to a record 191. Women make up 29% of newly elected MPs, up from 22% in 2010.

The Green party had the highest percentage of women candidates selected at 38%, but with chances in only a handful of seats, they had little chance of affecting parliamentary gender balance.

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UKIP Candidates: The Anti-Westminster Outsiders?

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Much of UKIP’s appeal has arisen from positioning itself as the ‘anti-Westminster party’ but to what extent do UKIP candidates differ from those put forward by the ‘traditional parties’? Sally Symington and Jennifer Hudson assess the backgrounds of UKIP candidates using the data available and suggest that they may in fact reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament.

UKIP is no longer a peripheral party and will, for the for first time in a British General Election, have a measurable impact on the outcome, both directly, through winning seats, and indirectly by influencing the behaviour of the other major parties. According to recent polling data, support for UKIP is at 16% and Ofcom has endorsed it as a ‘major’ party, including UKIP in the prospective TV leader debates. A recent poll of pollsters predicts UKIP will win five seats in May.

Much of UKIP’s appeal has arisen from positioning itself as the outsider or ‘anti-Westminster party’. After the Clacton by-electon in October 2014 Nigel Farage claimed, ‘We have a career political class of college kids who have never had jobs in their lives with absolutely no connection to ordinary people’. In this blog, we look at the backgrounds of UKIP candidates and ask to what extent are they different from candidates representing the traditional three parties? Are they less likely to have gone to university and worked outside of politics? Are UKIP candidates really different or do they reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament?

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Guarded and sensible? The problem with UKIP and women

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In the wake of a second UKIP win in Rochester and Strood, Rosie Campbell, Chrysa Lamprinakou and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson consider how the background of UKIP candidates selected so far compare with the other parties.

Mark Reckless’s win over Conservative candidate Kelly Tolhurst in the Rochester and Strood by-election doubled the number of UKIP MPs in Westminster and reignited speculation as to who will be next to defect.

The Tory defeat in Rochester was indeed a bad day for Cameron and the party, with many commentators highlighting what was seen to be an ineffective campaign, despite reports that MPs were required to campaign in the constituency three times in the run up to 20 November. Others, however, argued it was worse day for Labour with Emily Thornberry’s controversial tweet, subsequent resignation and the fact that UKIP continues to pull Labour party supporters into its ranks. It’s a day the Lib Dems will also want to forget, polling 5th, 1300 votes behind the Greens and 150 votes ahead of the Monster Raving Looney party.

On the back UKIP’s success in Rochester and in Clacton, pollsters and pundits have turned their attention to estimating the number of seats UKIP will win come May 2015. The numbers vary considerably: projections range from 5, 30 or even 128 seats. Back in 2013, Farage claimed that UKIP would put a UKIP candidate in every parliamentary seat. However, given the rate of UKIP selections to date, this appears (perhaps as it did from the start) highly unlikely. Instead, and on the back of success in both by-elections, UKIP will have to concentrate its campaign resources on its target seats—reaching out to a broad base of potential supporters in those seats.

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The new political class of 2015

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There is a perception that Westminster politics is a self-serving career machine for the ambitions of a small cadre of self-reproducing politicians. To what extent is this view justified on the basis of the evidence? With six months until the 2015 general election Rosie Campbell, Chrysa Lamprinakou and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson assess the diversity of the parliamentary candidates selected so far.

There can be no silencing of discussions about who governs us in the wake of the Scottish referendum. As the Westminster parties try to identify means to simultaneously fix both the Scottish and English questions, whilst maximising their electoral advantage, the electorate remains sceptical about mainstream politicians’ commitment to truly represent them. We see evidence of this scepticism in the declining turnout rates at British general elections, the rise in support for UKIP and in the 1,617,989 Scots who decided that they would prefer not to be governed from Westminster at all.

The three party leaders, who travelled up to Scotland to deliver their promise of greater devolution, may not share policy preferences, but on the surface at least they have a great deal in common. All three are white, youngish-middle-aged men with high levels of education and all are career politicians.   The seeming homogeneity of the political elite feeds into a perception that Westminster politics is a self-serving career machine for the ambitions of a small cadre of self-reproducing politicians. To what extent is this view justified on the basis of the evidence? Are political parties continuing to select individuals who fit the usual mould to stand for parliament or is there evidence of increasing diversity among parliamentary candidates?

Using data from our study of parliamentary candidates (see parliamentarycandidates.org), we look at the gender, race, age and occupation of the candidates selected by party and seat winnability so far.

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