The 2016 United States Presidential Nomination Process


The American presidential nomination process is one of the most extensive, difficult and costly processes in the world.

White House” by Diego Cambiaso is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Presidential candidates compete against each other in a series of state contests before the general election to gain their party’s nomination and support. The candidate who amasses a majority of his or her party’s delegates wins the nomination. This year, the primary election began on February 1, 2016 – both the Republican and Democratic parties held their caucuses in Iowa. The American presidential nomination process is one of the most extensive, difficult and costly processes in the world. See below for more information and key terms that might help you to understand the Presidential Nomination Process.

Presidential Candidates in Consideration:

Donald J. Trump

Constitutional Qualifications:

  • Natural born citizen; thirty-five years old; and a fourteen year resident of the United States 

What is a Caucus?

A caucus is a setting that allows registered members of a political party to come together, discuss and express support for their presidential candidates. Both political parties run their caucuses differently based on their respective rules. Generally the turnout in caucuses tends to be lower than the turnout in the primaries. This year, Caucuses were held in the following places: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What is a Primary?

At a Primary, voters are able to cast a ballot for their preferred candidate. There are two types of primaries:

  1. “Closed” – voters are registered with the party holding the primary can participate;
  2. “Open” – voters are not required to be registered with the party holding the primary.

How will the delegate process work in 2016?

This yea, both political parties allowed four states to hold their delegate selection event in February: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. The remaining states had to wait until March 1 (also known as Super Tuesday).

How many delegates must a candidate secure to win the nomination?

  • A Democratic candidate must secure at least 2,382 out of 4,763 delegates to become the party’s nominee.
  • A Republican candidate must secure at least 1,237 out of 2,472 delegates to become the party’s nominee.

Who are the delegates?

Delegates are: party activists, local political leaders, or early supporters of a given candidate. Delegates can also include members of a campaign’s steering committee or long-time active members of their local party organization. 

How do candidates win delegates?

  • Democratic Party – Candidates are awarded delegates on a proportional basis
  • Republican Party – Some states award delegates on a proportional basis, some are winner-take-all and others use a hybrid system. 

What are “Super-delegates”?

Each party reserves a specific number of delegate slots for its notable officials, who are unpledged to a candidate.

  • Republican Party – three members of each state’s national committee, representing less than 7 percent of the party’s total delegates in 2016.
  • Democratic Party – include members of the national committee and all members of Congress, governors, former presidents and vice presidents, former leaders of the Senate and the House, and former chairs of the Democratic National Committee. This group represents about 15 percent of the party’s total delegates.

What happens at the national conventions?

National conventions, for the most part, are procedural. This convention is typically used to ratify the candidate who has already secured the support of a majority of delegates, and organize media events to highlight the party’s policy position; presidential and vice presidential nominees; party leaders; and rising stars.

I am excited to see where this interesting election takes us, are you?

Further Reading: Council on Foreign Relations – The U.S. Presidential Nomination Process

Jada Cash-WilsonJada Cash-Wilson is a Project Coordinator/Graduate Intern in the Department of Government & External Affairs and Community Impact and holds a BA in Political Philosophy. Before connecting with Wheelock, she worked as a Research Policy/Grant Analyst and liaison between the Mayor and City Council for a major city in the mid-west, and as a Legislative Aide for former U.S Senator Carl Levin. Jada aspires to someday make a positive difference in the world.