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). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, 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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