Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries

By John G. Geer | Go to book overview

4
Information and Voters Presidential Primaries

Over two hundred years ago the Founding Fathers doubted the ability of the electorate to select good presidents. A major fear was that people would not be well enough informed to choose candidates wisely. 1 In a slightly different form, that concern still exists. A number of scholars question whether voters in primaries possess sufficient information to nominate good candidates (see, for instance, Marshall 1981; Weaver et al. 1981). Marshall ( 1983), for example, contends that presidential primaries take place in a "climate of . . . poorly informed public opinion" (p. 60). Keeter and Zukin ( 1983) go so far as to title their book about the current nominating system Uninformed Choice.

Such assessments, however, often do not consider carefully enough the standards by which we should judge the information possessed by voters in primaries. That is, how do we know when voters are "informed"? Certainly if voters knew all the views and qualifications of the candidates running in a primary, we could confidently claim that voters are "informed." But all voters, and not just those who participate in primaries, fail to meet that standard. By using this tough standard to decide whether voters are informed or not, one could easily conclude that the electorate should neither nominate nor elect public officials. Therefore, unless we want to question the entire election process, we should not expect voters in primaries to be completely informed about the candidates. The question becomes, then, what alternative criteria to use when making this difficult judgment. If voters, for instance, know three out of the six contenders for the nomination, does that mean they are informed or uninformed? What if they know all three of the "serious" candidates, but none of the three "dark horses." Does that make

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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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