The 2016 Presidential Primaries: Rise of the Political Outsiders

Written by Steven Spear, Jr.


The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election is one for the history books: Hillary Clinton’s caucus/primary season was supposed to be a victory lap to the Democratic nomination, but it quickly turned into a fight she will never forget while Donald Trump stunned the world as he cemented himself as the frontrunner in a crowded Republican field.

At the beginning of the Republican race, Ted Cruz (a Texas Senator), Marco Rubio (a Florida Senator), and Jeb Bush (a former Florida Governor) were popular with the media; however, the initial polls told a completely different story: Donald Trump (billionaire businessman) and Ben Carson (a pediatric neurosurgeon)—2 candidates with no political experience—held a commanding lead over the rest of the field.

Many people believed that Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination as soon as she announced her candidacy. Little did we know how exciting the Democratic primary season would be. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Senator, did not poll well in the initial polls, but as time passed, the gap between Clinton and Sanders narrowed. Despite his increasingly competitive polling, the Clinton campaign did not treat Sanders as a threat.


On August 2015, the debates began: there were 17 candidates for the Republican nomination and 5 candidates for the Democratic nomination

In the Republican debates, Donald Trump left everyone shocked. He firmly controlled most of the debates with his unorthodox style: Trump made the debate less about discussing policies and more about insulting, name-calling, and eschewing political correctness. Other candidates:

Jeb Bush last campaigned in 2002, and it was painfully obvious: he seemed nervous, and his talking points were unpolished.

Ben Carson was out of his natural element: his quiet demeanor was no match for Trump, and he often went long periods of time without speaking.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, received a massive boost in the polls after several strong debate performances, but her support dissipated after she was pushed out of the primetime debates.

In the Democratic debates, Bernie Sanders centered his campaign around income inequality, and he attacked Clinton on her close connections to billionaires and Wall Street. While Clinton began her campaign touting centrist stances and discussing her history of gathering bipartisan support, Sanders’ rising poll numbers forced her to re-evaluate her platform. In an effort to appeal to Sanders’ voters, she adopted progressive stances on many issues—the minimum wage, financial regulation, etc.


On February 1, 2016, state primaries and caucuses began: there were 12 candidates for the Republican nomination and 3 candidates for the Democratic nomination

Political parties have allowed the states to have a significant amount of influence in selecting the party’s nominee. The party’s national committee assigns each U.S. state, U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia a number of delegates based on population, and from February through June, these delegates were distributed to the candidates based on the results of a caucus of primary election. In a caucus, voters gather at local events to publicly state their support for a candidate, and in a primary, voters cast secret ballots.

The Republican primaries:

After failing to gain traction as the best alternative to Trump, Jeb Bush pinned the hopes of his campaign in South Carolina. His father and brother won the South Carolina primary each time so South Carolina was considered to be “safe territory,” however, Jeb placed 4th and suspended his campaign.

Marco Rubio won a few primaries and caucuses, but, he was not seen as a serious contender for the nomination. After losing his home primary in Florida by almost twenty points, Rubio suspended his campaign.

Even though Ted Cruz’s political philosophy attracted enough support to secure second place in the primaries, it was his political philosophy that made other voters reluctant to support him: Cruz has a history of being unwilling to compromise, and while some might admire his steadfast will, more consider it to be a quality that does not belong in a President of the United States.

Donald Trump won the Republican primary with almost 60 percent of the delegates (Andrews, 2016 Delegate Count and Primary Results) and 45 percent of the popular vote (Polls, Real Clear Politics).

The Democratic primaries:

After the first few primaries and caucuses, it became clear that Bernie Sanders’ popularity was grossly underestimated. The Sanders campaign attracted many supporters (particularly those under 30) who believed that the system ignores the middle and working class in favor of pandering to the rich and powerful. Sanders had several upsets and his victories often had double-digit margins. Clinton was expected to win many primaries by large margins but often only won by less than 5 points (a small margin of victory).

Despite Sanders’ big wins and small losses, Clinton was always leading in the delegate count. How is this possible? Superdelegates. Clinton had the support of most of her party’s superdelegates (current and former national party leaders, members of Congress, Governors, and state party leaders who are free to vote for any candidate running for the  presidential nomination). Sanders often described these superdelegates as a way for the party establishment to control the nomination process and reject the will of the voters.


Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz: these men hold vastly different views, and while each of them were not supported by their party’s establishment, they had large amounts of support from the American people. Sanders received 43% of the Democratic primary vote while Trump and Cruz received 70% of the Republican primary vote. Together, this accounts for almost 33 million people.

This is 33 million people who are dissatisfied with the status quo of a partisan, dysfunctional government; this is 33 million people who feel that their concerns are not being addressed by the Democratic and Republican party establishments. Voters are crying out for change, but the two major parties are not listening.


The in-depth look at the current presidential election cycle will continue with “The 2016 Presidential Election: After the Primaries.”


Andrews, W., Bennett, K., Parlapiano, A. (2016, July 5). 2016 Delegate Count and Primary Results. New York Times. Retrieved from

Polls. Real Clear Politics. Retrieved from



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