American Government and Politics

Who Should Decide the Party’s Nominee? Understanding Public Attitudes Toward Primary Elections

Zachary Albert Brandeis University
Raymond La Raja University of Massachusetts Amherst
Primary elections in the US reflect the most inclusive nomination process among political parties across democracies. The desire for mass participation in party nominations appears embedded in a widespread populist ideal. It remains unclear, however, the extent to which voters believe that elites should be able to influence the process. Using data from the 2018 CCES we demonstrate that levels of political engagement, perceived ideological distance from the party, and partisanship predict the degree of support for popular selection of party nominees. We find key differences between the parties, with Republicans, particularly conservatives, more strongly opposed to elite influence. Surprisingly, most voters tend to have a pluralistic approach to selecting nominees, allowing for party officials and experts to weigh in on picking the party’s candidates. The findings have implications for how we conceive of political parties and the kinds of nomination reforms that might be embraced by voters.