Institution for Social and Policy Studies

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Why Don’t People Vote in U.S. Primary Elections? Assessing Theoretical Explanations for Reduced Participation

Author(s): 

Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, Daniel R. Biggers, and David J. Hendry

ISPS ID: 
ISPS17-01
Full citation: 
Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, Daniel R. Biggers, and David J. Hendry (2016). Why Don't People Vote in U.S. Primary Elections? Assessing Theoretical Explanations for Reduced Participation. Electoral Studies, 45: 119–129. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2016.11.003
Abstract: 
Primary election participation in the United States is consistently lower than general election turnout. Despite this well-documented voting gap, our knowledge is limited as to the individual-level factors that explain why some general election voters do not show up for primary contests. We provide important insights into this question, using a novel new survey to examine three theoretical perspectives on participation never before empirically applied to primary races. Compared to general elections, we find that for U.S. House primary elections sizable segments of the electorate consider the stakes lower and the costs of voting greater, feel less social pressure to turn out and hold exclusionary beliefs about who should participate, and are more willing to defer to those who know and care more about the contests. Multivariate analysis reveals that these attitudes explain validated primary election participation. These findings point to new directions for future research.
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Link to article here.

Publication date: 
2017
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