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The Attrition Game: Initial Resources, Initial Contests and the Exit of Candidates During the US Presidential Primary Season

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2006

Department of Political Science, University of Arizona, Tucson.


In contests for the presidential nominations from the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States, the duration of candidacies determines both the winning candidate (i.e., the one who outlasts his or her opponents) and the amount of intraparty conflict before the nomination is bestowed. This article analyses how strategic considerations lead some candidates to exit the race more quickly than others. Factors which could shape such strategic considerations include initial candidate assets and characteristics (national poll standings, fund-raising totals and occupational background), initial contest outcomes (Iowa and New Hampshire) and structural variables (proportional representation delegate distribution rules, party, front-loaded calendar). Results from a duration model indicate that poll standings, money (in a curvilinear pattern), New Hampshire and Iowa results, occupational backgrounds and the front-loading of the primary calendar shaped the length of candidacies for presidential contestants from 1980 to 2004. Candidates lacking in initial assets or early victories leave the nomination race in a process most resembling a game of attrition.

Research Article
2006 Cambridge University Press

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