Political scientists are charged with explaining the recurrent elements in the politics of presidential selection. Journalists are charged with explaining the elements of the moment. The best political scientists are nevertheless able to apply their larger analytic framework to the specific developments of the day. Just as the best journalists are able to frame those developments in some larger theoretical context. Political history, however, has been notably unkind to political scientists and journalists alike, when it comes to predicting the specific outcome of contests over presidential nominations—and elections. Inevitably, then, the year 1984 appears as the next challenge to scholarly, and journalistic, interpretation.
The principal sources of change in the contemporary politics of presidential selection, those categories of events which are the meat of working journalists, are themselves comparatively stable and would thus seem ideally suited to the investigations of working political scientists as well. These include the institutional framework for the nomination and then the election. They include the field of contenders which begins the chase for a nomination, and narrows in the conflict over final election. They include major public issues, both those which surface with some regularity and those which really are specific to one presidential year. And they include the organized interest groups, recognized constituencies, and rank-and-file individuals who participate at varying levels and in varying mixes from campaign to campaign. In the face of these regularized elements of change, of course, the strategies and tactics of elite contenders and mass participants also reliably shift. For 1984, every one of these categories shows some further evolution, or at least some new, noteworthy twist.