Citizen Choice in Presidential Primaries

Authored by: Wayne Steger

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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The ability to put candidates on the ballot makes political parties the arbiters of representative democracy (Schattschneider 1960, 140–41). As arbiters, the parties have the capacity to choose candidates that serve partisan interests, potentially at the expense of the broader public (Bawn et al. 2012). That makes nominations a critical concern for the parties and for the citizenry. Historically, presidential nominations were the domain of party leaders negotiating in proverbial smoke-filled rooms, with little input by party members around the country. The McGovern-Fraser Committee reforms sought to give greater legitimacy to the party’s presidential nominee by making the process more open and participatory (Ceaser 1979; Crotty 1977; Ranney 1975). Voters in reformed caucuses and primaries gained a voice in the selection of the nominee (Polsby 1983; Shafer 1983). The introduction of greater participation in binding primaries and caucuses, however, may or may not have achieved the purpose of handing the control over the nomination to citizens who identify with the major political parties. The campaign occurring before the voting begins can influence the outcome of voting. In particular, The Party Decides thesis holds that party insiders may still hold considerable influence over the selection of presidential nominees if they work together before the caucuses and primaries begin (Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller 2008; Steger 2000).

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