The Effect of Open and Closed Primaries on Voter Turnout

Authored by: Matthew J. Geras , Michael H. Crespin

Routledge Handbook of Primary Elections

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138684089
eBook ISBN: 9781315544182
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



In late June 2016, the voters in New York’s 19th congressional district went to the polls to pick candidates to stand on the party lines for the general election. Since Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) was retiring, there were strong candidates in both the Democratic and Republican races seeking to run in a competitive district that Barack Obama won by six points in 2012. Nevertheless, there were only 17,007 voters on the Democratic side and 13,714 votes cast for the Republican candidates for an overall turnout of under 13 percent (Hamilton 2016). In contrast, statewide turnout in Georgia’s primary was just over 20 percent. 1 One major difference between the two states that might explain the difference in turnout is who is allowed to vote in the primary elections. In New York, only registered party members are allowed to vote in party primaries. This is not true in Georgia where there is no party registration and voters may pick either ballot on primary day. Since many potential voters are excluded, it is not surprising that turnout was lower in the closed primary state compared to the open one. In this chapter, we provide a systematic test of the hypothesis that primary type will influence turnout rates in over 2,000 contested House primaries across nine election years from 2000 to 2016. In short, our results show us the New York–Georgia differences are not an anomaly and that closed primaries are associated with lower levels of voter turnout.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.