How does a Party Choose a Presidential Candidate?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

In the United States, the way in which a political party chooses a presidential candidate is up to the party itself. This is because there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution that calls for any particular method for choosing candidates. The two major parties in the U.S., the Republicans and the Democrats, each choose a presidential candidate at a national convention where delegates from each state cast votes. How the delegates vote usually is based on the results of primary elections or caucuses that were held in their respective states. The exact manner in which the delegates are chosen, the primaries or caucuses are held and how the delegates must vote is determined by each state's branch of that particular political party.

The Constitution does not set laws regarding how a presidential candidate may be chosen.
The Constitution does not set laws regarding how a presidential candidate may be chosen.

Within each party, every state is assigned a certain number of delegates. Other U.S. jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and American Samoa, also are assigned a specific number of delegates. These numbers are determined by the party and can be based on a combination of many factors, such as the state's population and its number of party members in the U.S. Congress. There also can be at-large delegates — usually current or former party officials — who are not obligated to vote for any particular candidate. In each state or jurisdiction, the party holds a convention where individuals are chosen to be delegates and attend the party's national convention to help choose a presidential candidate.

In the U.S., the way in which a political party chooses a presidential candidate is up to each political party.
In the U.S., the way in which a political party chooses a presidential candidate is up to each political party.

Primaries and caucuses are held in each state, usually starting in early January of the presidential election year. A primary is an election in which citizens cast secret ballots, and caucuses are meetings where votes are cast either publicly or by secret ballot. Local primaries and caucuses help determine the delegates to the state convention and which candidate or candidates those delegates will support. Just like at the state level, the exact manner in which this is done is up to the local branch of the party.

In some places, the percentage of delegates who are obligated to support a candidate is based on the percentage of votes received in the primary or caucus. Some primaries and caucuses, however, award all of the delegates to the candidate who received the most votes. At the national convention, the delegates cast their votes to choose a presidential candidate. The party's nominee might be the person who receives the most votes from delegates, or a majority of the votes might be required.

In some cases, the eventual nominee will already be known before the convention because he or she is assured of receiving more than enough votes from the party's delegates. When this happens, the other candidates from the party might endorse the front-runner and release their delegates to vote for him or her when the party begins the roll call to choose a presidential candidate. This typically is done as a sign of unity within the party, which is seen as giving the nominee a better chance in the general election than if the party were to have somewhat of a division within its ranks or doubt about its nominee.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Bhutan-I know that the candidate polls had Guilani polling third in Florida, I still voted for Giuliani even though it was clear that McCain would win the Florida primary.

I did not want McCain because I wanted a true conservative that would speak for me not a Republican in name only which McCain represents.

If I would have wanted a liberal I would have voted for Obama. In the presidential race, I voted for McCain, but did so reluctantly.

This was a huge problem for McCain because a lot of the Republican base did not vote for him and some even voted for Obama to spite him.

When you don’t have the full support of your own party, or if your base is not excited about your candidacy, the independents and moderates that you will need to shore up your campaign will not vote for you and this is what happened to McCain.


Sneakers41-McCain on the issues also hurt him with the Republican Party. He led the opposition to drilling in Anwar, when the Republican Party was for it in order to get us from being so dependent on foreign oil.

In addition, McCain refused to sign the promise that he would not raise taxes or propose new tax increases.

These were severe candidate issues not to mention his stance on amnesty for illegal aliens. He was for it, but when he received a severe challenge to his senatorial race this year, he changed his stance on the issue and now became totally against what he had previously said.


Sunshine31-John Mc Cain became the presidential nominee for the Republicans, for the 2008 presidential election.

This was problematic for the true conservatives because the party saw Mc Cain as too liberal to lead the party and become president.

Many Republicans felt that Mc Cain betrayed the Republicans by always trying to support legislation that Democrats would support instead of working with his own party.

He proposed the McCain-Feingold Bill that was a campaign finance reform bill that limited corporations from contributing money to campaigns. This was an effort to hurt the corporate contributions that usually benefited Republicans.

However, the passage of this bill did not take the money out of politics it only shifted it to 501c3 organizations that were non profit and were able to fund candidates under the disguise of a political group that was not affiliated with the candidate.

George Soros who lobbied to get Obama elected funded most of these groups.

In addition, McCain made some mistatements that left people sratching their heads.The most famous McCain quotes were, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

This was said during the heels of the first financial bailout to help the banks from financial collapse. After McCain said this many Americans felt that he was out of touch with what was really happening.


Candidate issues and well as candidate polls often determine who the front runner will be for the political party.

Usually the President, if he did not serve his second term yet is one of the election presidential candidate.

The other party usually has primaries to determine who will represent the party in the upcoming election.

In the 2008 election candidates allowed both parties to seek a candidate because George W. Bush had already served two terms and Vice President Dick Cheney chose not to run.

It is also customary that the Vice President of a ticket be given the chance at presidential running.

For the Republicans, Giuliani was an early favorite, but the press beat him down so much and people fell for these polls and that after the Florida primary, he dropped out of the race.

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