What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?

APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper

Forthcoming, American Political Science Review

49 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2014 Last revised: 2 Aug 2014

Date Written: 2014


This article studies the interplay of U.S. primary and general elections. I examine how the nomination of an extremist changes general-election outcomes and legislative behavior in the U.S. House, 1980 - 2010, using a regression discontinuity design in primary elections. When an extremist - as measured by primary-election campaign receipt patterns - wins a "coin-flip" election over a more moderate candidate, the party's general-election vote share decreases by approximately 9 -13 percentage points, and the probability that the party wins the seat decreases by 35 - 54 percentage points. This electoral penalty is so large that nominating the more extreme primary candidate causes the district's subsequent roll-call representation to reverse, becoming more liberal when an extreme Republican is nominated and more conservative when an extreme Democrat is nominated. Overall, the findings show how general-election voters act as a moderating filter in response to primary nominations.

Suggested Citation

Hall, Andrew, What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries? (2014). Forthcoming, American Political Science Review. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2454303

Andrew Hall (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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