Primary Elections and Group Dynamics

Examining the Makeup of the Party Coalitions

Authored by: Casey B. K. Dominguez

Routledge Handbook of Primary Elections

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

Print ISBN: 9781138684089
eBook ISBN: 9781315544182
Adobe ISBN:


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Political parties are usually defined as coalitions that run candidates for office in order to control government and achieve policy outcomes (Downs 1957; Schlesinger 1985; Sorauf 1984). Because American parties choose candidates in primary elections, rather than the more controlled internal processes used by parties in other countries, there is always some question about whether American party nominees are really loyal to the party itself, or whether they are independent agents who will make promises to anyone (inside the party or not) in order to get elected (Herrnson 1988, 2001; Jacobson 2001; Silbey 1990). Lacking enforceable party platforms, there are also real questions about whether there really is “a party” to whom we might ask candidates to be loyal. But the fact of the matter is that partisan elected officials do control government policy. The substantive priorities of the parties do differ by party. And some (if not all) important policy positions are the subject of widespread, if not universal, agreement among the party’s representatives in office. Since officeholders are not bound by platforms, or handpicked by party leaders, where does that policy agreement come from?

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