Public Choice

, Volume 167, Issue 1–2, pp 21–35 | Cite as

Closed primaries versus top-two primaries

  • Pablo AmorósEmail author
  • M. Socorro Puy
  • Ricardo Martínez


The top-two primaries recently approved in several US states eliminate closed party primaries and create instead a single ballot in which the first and second place winners pass to the general election. We conduct a theoretical analysis to compare the electoral consequences of top-two primaries with those of closed primaries. Each primary procedure induces a sequential game with three stages: candidate-entry stage, primary elections, and general election. We analyze the equilibria of these games and show that top-two primaries contribute to political moderation. In particular, when the median voter is extreme, closed primaries always generate extreme winners and, yet, top-two primaries can generate moderate winners. Furthermore, when the median voter is moderate but the partisan median voter of her party is extreme (and some additional mild conditions hold), closed primaries always generate extreme winners while top-two primaries always generate moderate winners. We also show that top-two primaries increase the number of swing states since, in certain cases, the party affiliation of the winner under top-two primaries may not coincide with the party affiliation of the median voter.


Voting system Closed primaries Open primaries  Top-two primaries Political moderation Sequential voting 

JEL Classification

C72 D72 



The authors thank Stephen Ansolabehere, Salvador Barberà, Luis Corch ón, and James Snyder for their helpful comments. Financial assistance from Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación under Projects ECO2014-53767-P and ECO2014-57673REDT, and Junta de Andalucía under project SEJ5980 is gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

11127_2016_328_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (281 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 280 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pablo Amorós
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. Socorro Puy
    • 1
  • Ricardo Martínez
    • 2
  1. 1.Departamento de Teoría e Historia EconómicaUniversidad de MálagaMalagaSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Economía y EstadísticaUniversidad de LeónLeónSpain

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