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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Effect of Party Networks on Congressional Primaries

  • Author(s): Patterson, Shawn Thomas
  • Advisor(s): Bawn, Kathleen
  • et al.

The scholarship on political parties has largely focused on their declining influence. Specifically, many claim that through the widespread adoption of the partisan primary, control over the nomination of candidates has been largely relegated to the ambitions and talents of the office-seekers themselves. I challenge this perspective, arguing that networks of partisan interests still play a major role in determining a party's nominee. To support this claim, I combine field interviews, journalistic accounts, election results, and campaign finance disclosures to demonstrate the systematic effect of political networks on the electoral prospects of primary candidates. I provide a series of case studies to show the impact of party networks and to demonstrate the underlying mechanism -- the diverse campaign resources that these networks are able to marshal on behalf of their candidates. To generalize these findings, I use campaign finance data for candidates between 1980 and 2014 to construct a novel measure of group support -- existing network density -- derived from the degree of coordination present among a candidate's campaign contributors. I find that greater network support provides a significant benefit to candidates seeking consequential open-seat nominations for the House of Representatives. These effects remain over time and across parties after controlling for measures of candidate viability, such as fundraising and previous elected experience. This suggests that while the party organizations may have fewer formal powers over the selection of candidates for office, the constellation of organized interests constituting these political parties have lost little of their clout in the electoral process.

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