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Winning May Not Be Everything, But It's More than We Thought: Presidential Party Activists in 1980

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Walter J. Stone
University of Colorado, Boulder
Alan I. Abramowitz
State University of New York, Stony Brook


Recent studies of party activists in the United States have shown an influx of issue-oriented activists into the presidential nominating process since the 1960s. These new activists are described as dogmatic ideologues more interested in promoting their issue concerns than in nominating an electable candidate. Based on our survey of 17,628 delegates attending party conventions in 11 states during the 1980 Democratic and Republican presidential nomination campaigns, we show that activists in both parties weighed electability more heavily than ideology in choosing a party nominee. This finding is in sharp contrast to a strong preference among these same activists for ideological purity over electability when they are presented with questions, typical of past studies, that pose the trade-off only in very general and abstract terms. A partial replication using data from the CPS survey of delegates to the 1972 Democratic national convention supports our findings and leads us to assert that previous studies have underestimated the concern of contemporary party activists with winning.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 1983

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