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Primary election

A primary election is one in which a political party, group of parties or the members of all registered political parties, or sometimes even all registered voters, participate in selecting a candidate for a later general election or by-election by all registered voters in that jurisdiction.

A variant of the primary election is the representative recall, which is a means of disapproval of the candidate in office, forcing them to resign using a legal or internal-to-party process. This would also require selection of a new candidate to replace the unacceptable incumbent, and thus also triggers a normal (but likely accelerated) primary election to contest the implied by-election.

The primary election system is very well developed in most countries but is particularly well-developed in the United States, where it is a process of winnowing-out minor candidates to clear the stage for the more important general election. The small state of New Hampshire draws world attention every four years because it has the first presidential primary.

Critics of this process charge that it tends to lead to copycat candidates, compromise candidates, and back-room deals, as it takes nearly a year to s/elect a president. One common assertion is that this constant dealing and drawn-out system of runoff voting where rounds are so far apart that a maximum of 'spin' is possible, simply selects the 'least worst'. A notable advocate of this view is Ralph Nader.

A less commonly heard defense of the primary election system is that it generates a maximum of political interest in election years, and is in some ways a separate deliberative democracy operating within each of the major parties. Also, that it reconciles interest groups to the process by giving them time to adapt to uncomfortable tradeoffs, or to raise funds if they seriously oppose the candidate currently leading.

These express to some degree a concern with tolerances over preferences, acceptance of compromise, and others of the "political virtues" praised by Bernard Crick[?], a British political scientist who wrote "In Defense of Politics[?]".

See also: runoff voting, deliberative democracy, spin, political virtues.

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