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Primary school

Now that Barack Obama has finally triumphed, what have we learned from the US primaries?

By Erik Tarloff   June 2008

Do British readers find the US primary system confusing? If so, they’re in good company. Most Americans don’t get it either. Far from being constitutionally mandated, it is a relatively recent phenomenon, a product of the progressive movement of the early 20th century. The individual states have established their own procedures, which accounts for the grab bag of primaries and caucuses and the variety of arcane procedures with which the candidates (and newsreaders) have had to contend.

Initially, primaries were purely advisory, and party elders often ignored the results. The first election cycle where they became formally binding was as…

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