Crashing the party: strategic candidate entry in partisan primaries for the U.S. House
Pressel, Robert Jacob
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By selecting the pool of candidates that voters can choose from in the general election, party nominating contests play a fundamental role in determining the outcome of elections at all levels of government. However, past research has indicated that, due largely to the incumbency advantage, primary competition has declined dramatically since the institution’s origins. Strategic entry theory suggests that skilled candidates, often those holding prior political office, wait for the most opportune chance to run for higher office. To test this hypothesis, I collected data on all congressional districts and candidates from the 2014 midterm elections. Using candidate information gathered from the Federal Election Commission and other candidate databases, district level demographic and political data, and incumbent statistics, I developed a model using the individual and structural factors to predict when an experienced politician will challenge an incumbent within their own party. The data show that strong intraparty challenges are rare compared to cross-party challenges, and that the most ideologically centrist incumbents, of either party, are the most likely to be “primaried” by an experienced and ambitious challenger.