Two Parties, Two Types of Nominees, Two Paths to Winning a Presidential Nomination, 1972-2004


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wish to thank Nicol C. Rae, professor of political science at Florida International University; Jamie L. Carson, assistant professor of political science at the University of Georgia; and the anonymous reviewers for their comments, advice, and encouragement.

D. Jason Berggren is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in political science at Florida International University. His research interests include the presidency, religion and politics, and southern politics. He has published articles in Journal of Church and State, The Forum, and White House Studies.


Contrary to findings that show the contemporary nomination process, regardless of party, favoring early frontrunners, this article shows that the eventual Democratic nominee is typically different from and often travels a different path to victory than the eventual Republican nominee. Since 1972, the eventual Democratic winners began as relatively unknown candidates with single-digit support who emerge as the frontrunner late in the process, sometimes just before the voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire and sometimes just after the first votes are cast. John Kerry is only the latest Democratic example. In contrast, Republican winners have been national figures and have consistently been the early favorites a year before any votes were cast or large sums of money raised. To date, the accuracy of partyless models is driven largely by Republican successes. These models may be better at predicting Republican nominees than predicting Democratic nominees.