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.