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Primaries and Candidates: Examining the Influence of Primary Electorates on Candidate Ideology*

  • Lindsay Nielson and Neil Visalvanich

Primary elections in the United States have been under-studied in the political science literature. Using new data to estimate the ideal points of primary election candidates and constituents, we examine the link between the ideological leanings of primary electorates and the ideological orientation of US congressional candidates. We use district-level data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and ideal point estimates for congressional primary election candidates to examine the role of primary electorate ideology in the selection of party nominees. We find that more extreme Republicans are more likely to win their party’s primary and that Republican and Democratic candidates are responsive to different electoral constituencies.

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Lindsay Nielson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Bucknell University, 1 Dent Drive, Lewisburg, PA 17837 ( Neil Visalvanich, Lecturer, Durham University, School of Government and International Affairs, The Al-Qasimi Building, Elvet Hill Road, Durham DH1 5EH, UK ( A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2012 Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association. The authors gratefully thank Gary C. Jacobson, Thad Kousser, the journal editors, and the anonymous reviewers for their many helpful comments. The authors also thank Adam Bonica for providing data on candidate ideal points, Stephen Pettigrew for providing data on candidate characteristics, and Christopher F. Karpowitz, J. Quin Monson, Kelly D. Patterson, and Jeremy C. Pope for providing data on 2010 Tea Party endorsements. All interpretations of the data are the sole responsibility of the authors. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
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