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Primary Election Systems and Representation


  • Gerber, Elisabeth R
  • Morton, Rebecca B


We examine how differences in the institutions that regulate candidate nomination procedures, specifically direct primary election laws, affect the types of candidates elected in nonpresidential American elections. We hypothesize that in more closed primary systems, control over candidate nominations by ideological extremists will translate into a higher likelihood that extreme candidates win in the general election. We hypothesize that in more open systems, participation by a wider spectrum of the electorate means that candidates must appeal to more moderate voters, leading to the election of more moderate candidates. Using pooled cross-section time-series regression analysis, we find that U.S. representatives from states with closed primaries take policy positions that are furthest from their district's estimated median voter's ideal positions. Representatives from states with semi-closed primaries are the most moderate. We conclude that the costs of strategic behavior created by electoral institutions have important consequences for electoral outcomes. Copyright 1998 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Gerber, Elisabeth R & Morton, Rebecca B, 1998. "Primary Election Systems and Representation," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 304-324, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:14:y:1998:i:2:p:304-24

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    Cited by:

    1. Rafael Hortala-Vallve & Hannes Mueller, 2015. "Primaries: the unifying force," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 163(3), pages 289-305, June.
    2. Bernard Grofman & Orestis Troumpounis & Dimitrios Xefteris, 2016. "Electoral competition with primaries and quality asymmetries," Working Papers 135286117, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    3. Alesina, Alberto & Rosenthal, Howard, 2000. "Polarized platforms and moderate policies with checks and balances," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 1-20, January.
    4. Stanley Winer & Lawrence Kenny & Bernard Grofman, 2014. "Explaining variation in the competitiveness of U.S. Senate elections, 1922–2004," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 161(3), pages 471-497, December.
    5. Peter Calcagno & Christopher Westley, 2008. "An institutional analysis of voter turnout: the role of primary type and the expressive and instrumental voting hypotheses," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 19(2), pages 94-110, June.
    6. Dennis, Christopher & Medoff, Marshall H. & Magnera, Michael, 2008. "Constituents' economic interests and senator support for spending limitations," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 2443-2453, December.
    7. Michael Ensley, 2012. "Incumbent positioning, ideological heterogeneity and mobilization in U.S. House elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 151(1), pages 43-61, April.
    8. James Adams & Samuel Merrill, 2014. "Candidates’ policy strategies in primary elections: does strategic voting by the primary electorate matter?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 160(1), pages 7-24, July.
    9. Pablo Amorós & M. Socorro Puy & Ricardo Martínez, 2016. "Closed primaries versus top-two primaries," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 167(1), pages 21-35, April.
    10. 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.
    11. Fernando Aragón, 2014. "Why do parties use primaries?: Political selection versus candidate incentives," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 160(1), pages 205-225, July.
    12. Shino Takayama, 2014. "A Model of Two-stage Electoral Competition with Strategic Voters," Discussion Papers Series 525, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
    13. Casas, Agustin, 2013. "Partisan politics : parties, primaries and elections," UC3M Working papers. Economics we1315, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Departamento de Economía.
    14. Fernando Aragon, 2009. "Candidate nomination procedures andpolitical selection: evidence from LatinAmerican parties," STICERD - Economic Organisation and Public Policy Discussion Papers Series 003, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    15. Evrenk, Haldun & Lambie-Hanson, Timothy & Xu, Yourong, 2013. "Party-bosses vs. party-primaries: Quality of legislature under different selectorates," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 29(C), pages 168-182.

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