Acta Politica

, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 268–294 | Cite as

Whose primaries? Grassroots’ views on candidate selection procedures

  • Caroline CloseEmail author
  • Camille Kelbel
Original Article


Opening-up processes of candidate selection is often viewed as a means for political parties to regain legitimacy, and perhaps more crucially, members and voters. Despite a widespread belief that citizens want more democracy, including within parties, little research has questioned what sort of opening-up is desired—e.g., open or closed primaries—if at all, and by what type of citizens. Using data of the 2014 PartiRep voter survey in Belgium, we examine the diversity of preferences regarding candidate selection, and the extent to which preferences for open or closed primaries relate to voters’ participation in party organisations. Given the diversification of party affiliation types, we operationalise participation through two distinct variables: the formal party membership status of the respondents, and their party activism. We show that both membership and activism influence individual preferences, and that their effects are in fact conditional upon each other. Findings also raise crucial issues regarding the consequences of the multiplication of affiliation modes, the motivations and direction of intra-party reforms, as well as feed the debate on their expected versus genuine consequences.


Intra-party democracy Candidate selection Public opinion Belgium 



We are particularly indebted to the PartiRep team for compiling and preparing the survey data. We are very grateful for comments on previous drafts to Niklas Bolin, and to the organisers and participants of the workshop ‘Political Parties in the Age of Declining Party Membership’ that was held during the 18th Nordic Political Science Congress in Odense, Denmark, where an earlier version of this article was presented. The article has been revised substantially in part thanks to them.


This work was supported by the Belgian Science Policy under PartiRep II; and by the F.R.S.-F.N.R.S. under Grant MIS ‘Understanding the dynamics of party membership’.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université libre de BruxellesBruxellesBelgium

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