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Packed primaries and empty caucuses: voter turnout in presidential nominations


  • Caitlin Jewitt



In presidential nomination contests, the number of voters participating in selecting the presidential candidates varies considerably across states. In the same election year, turnout in presidential nomination contests ranges from less than 1 % of party supporters participating in some caucuses to record breaking turnout levels upwards of 50 % in primaries in other states. This variation is attributable, in part, to the electoral rules, which vary across states, years, and parties. In this paper, I provide a comprehensive examination of the extent to which party and state rules affect voter turnout in nomination contests from 1980 to 2012. Using the normal partisan support score as the voter turnout denominator, I find that primaries, open contests, and proportional representation rules result in higher levels of turnout. I also show that within the window of competitiveness, turnout is higher in states that hold contests later in the nomination season. Overall, my analysis provides insight into the institutional structures that influence the number of people who participate in the presidential nomination process and enhances understanding about the factors that affect voter turnout. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Suggested Citation

  • Caitlin Jewitt, 2014. "Packed primaries and empty caucuses: voter turnout in presidential nominations," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 160(3), pages 295-312, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:160:y:2014:i:3:p:295-312
    DOI: 10.1007/s11127-014-0185-z

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Norrander, Barbara, 2006. "The Attrition Game: Initial Resources, Initial Contests and the Exit of Candidates During the US Presidential Primary Season," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(03), pages 487-507, July.
    2. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    3. D. Hillygus & Sarah Treul, 2014. "Assessing strategic voting in the 2008 US presidential primaries: the role of electoral context, institutional rules, and negative votes," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 161(3), pages 517-536, December.
    4. Green, Donald P. & Kim, Soo Yeon & Yoon, David H., 2001. "Dirty Pool," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 55(02), pages 441-468, March.
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    Primaries; Voter turnout; Electoral rules;


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