Communication Patterns in Presidential Primaries 1912–2000: Knowing the Rules of the Game

By Kathleen E. Kendall

A paper by Kathleen E. Kendall, fall 1997 fellow, examines communication by candidates and the media in presidential primary elections. The presidential primaries are a twentieth century phenomenon which grew out of the late nineteenth century tradition of party primaries on the local level. They are distinctly different from general elections because they are multiple, serial, and intraparty, with many candidates competing rather than just two. This study examines the distinctive patterns of communication in presidential primaries, focusing especially on 1912, the first year of numerous primaries, and then primaries at twenty-year intervals after 1912: 1932, 1952, 1972 and 1992. Part one reports on the consistent patterns of communication found in primaries from their earliest days through 1992. Part two turns to communication in the 1996 primaries and the future, examining the extent to which the communication patterns or rules used by candidates and the media in the past illuminate the 1996 primaries, and those of the future.

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