, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 289-317

Issues and the presidential primary voter

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Most agree that voting in presidential general elections is largely contingent on the evaluations of the candidates, issues, and parties. Yet inpresidential primary elections the determinants of voter choices are less clear. Partisanship is inconsequential, information about candidate personalities and policy positions is scarce, and a fourth factor, expectations, may influence voters. In this paper, we reconsider the influence ofpolitical issues in presidential primaries. We argue that past work has not adequately considered how issues matter in primary elections. Primaries are intraparty affairs, and the political issues that typically divide the parties are not very relevant in primaries. Instead, we focus on the policy issues each candidate chooses to emphasize in their quest for the nomination, which we call policy priorities. With data gathered about media coverage of the presidential contenders in the 1988 primaries, and using exit poll data from the 1988 Super Tuesday primaries, we show that issues, as policy priorities, do matter in presidential primary elections. This research also implies that primary campaigns matter, since information concerning the policy priorities of the candidates reaches the intended audience.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 1992.