Beyond Open and Closed

Complexity in American Primary Election Reform

Authored by: J. Andrew Sinclair , Ian O’Grady

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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In many respects, American political institutions are the outliers among Western democracies. The formal rules of political interaction reflect the age of the Constitution and uniqueness of its initial federal design. Comparative scholars of election rules often struggle to place the United States in the context of other countries because it relies on a complex separation-of-powers structure rather than electoral rules, like proportional representation, to drive policy bargaining (see Powell 2000, 41). 1 Furthermore, these institutions evolved alongside an unexpected development: the Constitution’s framers did not envision a role for the type of political parties which swiftly – and, critically, endogenously – developed (see Aldrich 2011, 71). American electoral institutions serve as an arbiter of conflict both between and within political parties. The story of primary election reform – more than just the specialized and unique area of presidential primary elections – is fundamentally a story about political actors seeking policy change by altering institutions within America’s comparatively malleable and strongly localized framework (as in North 1998).

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