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Divisive Primaries and General Election Outcomes: Another Look at Presidental Campaigns

Lonna Rae Atkeson
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 256-271
DOI: 10.2307/2991755
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2991755
Page Count: 16
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Divisive Primaries and General Election Outcomes: Another Look at Presidental Campaigns
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Abstract

Theory: The divisive primary hypothesis asserts that the more divisive the presidential primary contest compared to that of the other party the fewer votes received in the general election. Thus the party candidate with the most divisive primary will have a more difficult general election fight. However, studies at the presidential level have failed to consider candidate quality, prior vulnerability of the incumbent president or his party, the national nature of the presidential race, and the unique context of each presidential election campaign. Once these factors are taken into account presidential primaries should have a more marginal or even nonexistent effect in understanding general election outcomes. Hypothesis: Including appropriate controls for election year context in a state-by-state model and creating a national model that controls for election year context, candidate quality, and the nature of the times should diminish the effect of nomination divisiveness on general election outcomes. Methods: Regression analysis is used to examine the effect of presidential divisive nomination campaigns on general election outcomes. Results: Once election year context in the state-by-state model is controlled for, divisiveness has a much more modest effect. This modest effect does not appear to change general election outcomes. In addition, the election year model, which posits that presidential elections are national elections and not state-by-state elections, indicated that divisiveness was not significantly different from zero.

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