Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 13 > Issue 4

Uncontested Primaries: Causes and Consequences

Benoit S. Y. Crutzen, Erasmus School of Economics, The Netherlands, crutzen@ese.eur.nl , Nicolas Sahuguet, HEC Montréal, Department of Applied Economics, Canada, nicolas.sahuguet@hec.ca
Suggested Citation
Benoit S. Y. Crutzen and Nicolas Sahuguet (2018), "Uncontested Primaries: Causes and Consequences", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 4, pp 427-462. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00017133

Publication Date: 30 Oct 2018
© 2018 B. S. Y. Crutzen and N. Sahuguet
Elections,  Campaign finance,  Campaigns,  Elections,  Electoral institutions,  Political organizations,  Political parties,  Representation
Uncontested primariesincumbentscommitmenttransparencyregulation


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In this article:
Related Literature 
The Model 
Model with Commitment 
Model Without Commitment 
The Value of Commitment and Transparency 
Derivations for the Model with Commitment 
Proof of Lemma 1 
Equilibrium Characterization in the No Commitment Model 
Derivations for Section on Value of Commitment and Transparency 
Proof of Proposition 3 
Proof of Proposition 4 
Equilibrium Characterization with Imperfect Transparency 


Direct primary elections were introduced in the United States to limit the power of parties, to favor entry of new candidates, and to foster competition. However, a majority of incumbents faces no competition in their primary. We propose a formal model of primaries to rationalise this fact and analyse its welfare consequences. The party of the incumbent can influence the challenger's entry cost in the primaries. Primary challengers choose strategically to enter only when the incumbent is of low competence. Voters, who are poorly informed about the competence of candidates, use the competitiveness of the primary to update beliefs. We identify three sources of uncontested primaries: a lower bound on the challenger cost of entry; an absence of commitment to set this entry cost by the party of the incumbent; and an imperfect observability of the entry cost by voters. Regulation favoring challenger entry can benefit voters and even the party of the incumbent.