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Sidestepping primary reform: political action in response to institutional change

Seth J. Hill

Political Science Research and Methods, 2022, vol. 10, issue 2, 391-407

Abstract: Many believe primary elections distort representation in American legislatures because unrepresentative actors nominate extremist candidates. Advocates have reformed primaries to broaden voter participation and increase representation. Empirical evidence, however, is quite variable on the effects of reform. I argue that when institutional reform narrows one pathway of political influence, aggrieved actors take political action elsewhere to circumvent reform. I use a difference-in-differences design in the American states and find that although changing primary rules increases primary turnout, campaign contributions also increase with reform. Implementing nonpartisan primaries and reforming partisan primaries lead to estimated 9 and 21 percent increases in individual campaign contributions per cycle. This suggests actors substitute action across avenues of political influence to limit effects of institutional reform.

Date: 2022
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