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On the Representativeness of Primary Electorates

  • John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, Lynn Vavreck and Christopher Warshaw


Primary voters are frequently characterized as an ideologically extreme subset of their party, and thus partially responsible for party polarization in government. This study uses a combination of administrative records on primary turnout and five recent surveys from 2008–14 to show that primary voters have similar demographic attributes and policy attitudes as rank-and-file voters in their party. These similarities do not vary according to the openness of the primary. These results suggest that the composition of primary electorates does not exert a polarizing effect above what might arise from voters in the party as a whole.



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Department of Political Science, George Washington University (email:; Department of Political Science, University of California Los Angeles (email:; Departments of Political Science and Communication, University of California Los Angeles (email:; Department of Political Science, George Washington University (email: A previous version of this article was presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. We thank Larry Bartels and Chris Achen for inviting us to present work at a 2013 conference on representation at Vanderbilt University. At that time we had two separate articles on nominations, and the decision to collaborate directly resulted from conversations at this meeting. Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at and online appendices at



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On the Representativeness of Primary Electorates

  • John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, Lynn Vavreck and Christopher Warshaw


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