Political Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 689–718 | Cite as

Primary Voters Versus Caucus Goers and the Peripheral Motivations of Political Participation

  • Eitan Hersh
Original Paper


Depending on their state of residence, Americans can participate in Presidential nomination contests either by voting in a primary or by attending a caucus. Since caucus participation requires more time and effort than primary voting, it has long been thought that caucuses must attract a more partisan, activist, and politically extreme cohort of citizens than primaries. This paper challenges the view that more burdensome electoral institutions necessarily ought to attract more politically engaged citizens. I propose a theory of peripheral motivations that predicts caucus goers and primary voters will not differ in terms of their political attitudes or interest, but they will differ in their levels of community engagement. The key insight is that many of the reasons why citizens choose to participate or abstain from politics actually have little to do with politics. Analysis of two surveys from the 2008 Presidential election substantiates the theoretical expectations.


Presidential nomination contests Comparative electoral institutions Voting 



The author thanks Stephen Ansolabehere, Gabe Lenz, Brian Schaffner, and participants in Harvard’s Political Psychology and Behavior Workshop for their helpful comments. Additional thanks to Greg Distelhorst, Jennifer Hochschild, Orit Kedar, David Mayhew, Robert Putnam, and Patrick Warren for their advice on a course project from which this paper emerged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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