While congressional elections have been the subject of much scholarship, most studies have focused solely on general elections, overlooking that winning office is a two-stage process. Political parties must first select a candidate for the general election, which, in most cases, requires the parties to hold a primary election. Unlike congressional general elections, each state has different rules governing primary elections and this variety gives an excellent opportunity to study the effects of primary rules on electoral behavior. In this dissertation, I examine how institutional rules governing primary elections affect candidate emergence, competition, and voter turnout in U.S. House primary elections.
To do this, data was collected on all major-party primary elections and candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006. In addition, I compiled a unique data set of all primary candidates in 2004 and 2006 in which each candidate's occupation and race was identified. Information was also collected on a variety of primary rules, including runoff provisions, endorsement procedures, nominating conventions, primary dates, and the openness of the primary system.
In chapter 2, I present several models of candidate emergence that take into account individual and contextual factors, in addition to primary rules. I also pay special attention to the emergence of quality candidates. I find that when facing an incumbent in the primary, quality candidates are more likely to emerge when a runoff provision is in place.
In chapter 3, I use my unique data on the race/ethnicity of primary candidates to construct a model of the emergence of quality minority candidates. I find that the effect of runoff elections on quality minority candidate emergence depends on the race/ethnicity of the incumbent. Runoff provisions encourage quality minority candidates to run against minority incumbents. When the incumbent is white, minority candidates are less likely to emerge if there is a runoff provision. I also find that in districts with higher levels of education, quality minority candidates were more likely to emerge.
The emergence of quality candidates is important because these candidates are known to be able to offer competition to congressional incumbents. As I show in chapter 4, quality candidates increase the competitiveness of both primary and general elections. In addition, primary rules indicative of strong party control of the nomination, namely party endorsements and party conventions, work to discourage competitive primary elections and do not lead to more competitive general elections. I also show that earlier primary dates result in longer general election campaigns, which result in closer elections.
Competition is also important because it affects voter turnout. In chapter 5, I present a model of primary voter turnout that takes into account not only competition, but also the electoral context and primary rules. I find that even when controlling for the competitiveness of the primary, voter turnout was lower in states with party endorsement provisions. I also find that states that allow independents to vote in primaries had significantly higher levels of primary voter turnout.