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Nominating Presidential Candidates: The Primary Season Compared to Two Alternatives

Alexandra L. Cooper
Political Research Quarterly
Vol. 54, No. 4 (Dec., 2001), pp. 771-793
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah
DOI: 10.2307/449234
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/449234
Page Count: 23
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Nominating Presidential Candidates: The Primary Season Compared to Two Alternatives
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Abstract

Study of the impact of the McGovern-Fraser reforms on presidential nominations, though extensive, has focused largely on (1) the effects of reduced control by party leaders, and (2) the nature of inputs including votes, media, and money. Despite the unusual practice of holding separate contests in multiple states to select a single nominee, little research explicitly addresses how such sequential contests function to transmit voters' preferences. I use computer simulations to tackle this seemingly intractable question and compare the results of a primary season to two alternatives, a single national primary and a national primary followed by a runoff. Using first a uniform distribution of voter preferences and then a distribution based on ANES data, I explore the impact different decision rules have on (1) a party's ability to satisfy its own voters' preferences, and (2) its competitiveness in the general election. I find that, on average, the primary season does better both at estimating party voters' preferences and at selecting candidates nearer the general electorate median. A primary followed by a runoff yields results close to those for the primary season, whereas a single primary generates results not dissimilar to those created by random selection. I conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for the system used to nominate presidential candidates.

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