The Political Economy of Governance

Part of the series Studies in Political Economy pp 211-229

No Polarization in Spite of Primaries: A Median Voter Theorem with Competitive Nominations

  • Gilles SerraAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Center for Economics Research and Teaching (CIDE) Email author 

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It is commonly assumed that primaries induce candidates to adopt extremist positions. However the empirical evidence is mixed, so a theoretical investigation is warranted. This chapter develops a general model introducing the fundamental elements of primary elections in the well-known spatial voting model by Downs (An economic theory of democracy. Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, 1957). In spite of significant incentives for candidates to diverge, I find the surprising result that they will all converge to the median voter’s ideal point. The result in this paper suggests that primaries are not sufficient to create polarization by themselves. Rather, for candidates to diverge from the center, other complementary features must be present. An implication is that previous formal results in the literature predicting that primaries lead to polarization probably contain other factors that must be interacting with primaries. Future research should endeavor to disentangle these factors.