Party Primaries as a Strategic Choice

The Costs and Benefits of Democratic Candidate Selection

Authored by: Kathleen Bruhn

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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A recent political cartoon about the 2016 Republican primary season shows an elephant in a negligee sitting up in bed, remarking “Whoa! I just had the worst nightmare!” In the bed next to the elephant lies Donald Trump, smoking a cigarette. 1 Under any system but one of open primaries, Donald Trump would assuredly not have won the nomination of the Republican Party establishment. The Trump nomination illustrates both the fears and the hopes raised by primary elections: the fear of losing control of the process and selecting a potentially risky nominee, and the hope of selecting a more popular candidate capable of winning the general election. Why do parties choose to subject themselves to primary elections – or not – and what are the consequences for electability?

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