How a Party Clears the Field

There is general agreement among party scholars that political parties are somehow active in many nomination contests. Although rules or customs usually prevent the parties from officially taking sides in a primary, party leaders nonetheless find ways to give advantages to their preferred candidates and to pressure others out of the contest. But how?

In a new conference paper, Hans Hassell of Cornell College offers an answer. Hassell examines patterns in partisan donations to congressional candidates. Specifically, he counts the number of donors each candidate has who have also donated to the congressional campaign committee of that candidate’s party. He views these donors as indicators of party insider support; indeed, the congressional campaign committee may often act as a broker, putting potential donors in touch with candidates.

Hassell finds that the support of these partisan donors is more important than the overall amount of money the candidates raise:

[A]s party support for a candidate declines in competitive districts, the candidate is more likely to drop out of the race even after controlling for the amount of money the campaign raises. When making decisions about their candidacy, candidates care not only about the quantity of money raised each quarter but also the sources of that fundraising. Without being able to tap into the party’s network, candidates recognize that they will struggle to compete with candidates who do have access to party resources.

What’s more, Hassell finds that this trend is more detectable in open primary states, which are, in theory, the places where a wider range of candidates may be competitive and where the parties need to be more active to prevent disastrous primary results. This helps explain why some other studies have found no difference in the voting behavior of elected officials from open and closed primary states – parties are weeding out the less faithful candidates in the open ones.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.