Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries

By John G. Geer | Go to book overview

3
Participation in Presidential Primaries

Another frequently heard criticism of voters in primaries is that too few of them participate in presidential primaries. Davis ( 1980) observes that "voter turnout in key presidential primaries remains disappointingly low-- less than 30 percent of the voting age population (VAP)--despite celebrity level coverage by television networks and the national press" (p. 134). Ceasar ( 1982) concurs, commenting that "voter turnout in primaries is rather low . . ." (p. 65). While the rate of participation is far from ideal, it is not clear that turnout in primaries has been "disappointingly low" or "rather low." For instance, if one seeks to maximize grassroots participation in the choice of presidential nominees, a defensible goal, then primaries are a clear success. Alternative methods for selecting delegates generally have lower rates of participation. Citizens, for instance, turn out in much larger numbers in primaries than in caucuses. As many as 18 times more participants turn out in primaries than in caucuses. On average, primaries "draw roughly one-half of a party's eligible electorate, whereas caucuses tend to draw about one-twentieth" ( Crotty and Jackson 1985, p. 84).

Of course, many of those who complain of low turnout in primaries are comparing it to rates in general elections, not to participation in caucuses. Ranney ( 1977) contends that "while turnout in presidential elections may be a respectable stream (if not a mighty river), turnout in presidential primaries is a small brook" (p. 26). That turnout in primaries is lower than in general elections is not an obvious reason for concern since the costs of voting in primaries are greater than in general elections. First, less information is available about all the candidates during primaries than in general elections, increasing the cost of acquiring it.

-31-

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Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Political Science ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Foreword xi
  • Preface xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Notes 11
  • 2 - The Representativeness of Voters in Presidential Primaries 15
  • 3 - Participation in Presidential Primaries 31
  • 4 - Information and Voters Presidential Primaries 45
  • 4 Information and Voters Presidential Primaries 57
  • 5 - Voting in Presidential Primaries 63
  • Notes 84
  • 6 - The Media and Voters in Presidential Primaries 89
  • Notes 103
  • 7 - A Few Rules of the Game 105
  • Conclusion 120
  • Notes 120
  • 8 - A Proposal for Reform 125
  • Notes 136
  • Appendix I Definition of Variables Used in Explaining Turnout 139
  • Appendix II Description of Survey Questions 141
  • Appendix III The Coding of the Open-Ended Comments 145
  • Bibliography 147
  • Index 155
  • About the Author 161
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