Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 19, Issue 1

Eric Lawrence, Todd Donovan, and Shaun Bowler, "The adoption of direct primaries in the United States," Party Politics, 19 (January, 2013), 3-18. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Political institutions have been defined as 'humanly devised rules of the game' that prevent instability in political systems (North, 1990). Change to rules governing elections is relatively rare (Dunleavy and Margetts, 1995). Electoral institutions may be particularly slow to change because self-interested politicians who control the rules can be expected to maintain the status quo that put them in power. These elites might change rules, however, if it serves their own interests (Benoit, 2004; Boix, 1999; Grofman, 1990; Rokkan, 1970). Yet, as much as they facilitate stability, political institutions are not static. Institutions may change in response to their external environment, or in response to internal pressures (Shepsle and Bonchek, 1997), or both. This article examines one important aspect of changes in election rules in order to expand our understanding of when institutions change.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Adoption dates for non-southern states, 1900-1915.
Table 1. Why did the non-southern states adopt primaries?
Figure 2. Primary adoption dates in non-southern states, by I&R status
Figure 3. Primary adoption dates in non-southern states by ballot form

Last Paragraph:
(Second paragraph in conclusion) This is the first study of the introduction of the direct primary using a statistical approach to examining the competing arguments found in the literature on this topic. In general, our study suggests that there is a great deal to the original Merriam and Overacker account that direct primaries were motivated by reformist, anti-party forces. Although there are limitations on some of our measures it is nevertheless the case that these models provide evidence in support of their original arguments about the importance of the reform movement. To be sure, we see some evidence consistent with both the need for a reform movement and of party accession to the reform impulse. It is a situation that may be summed up by a paraphrase of Galbraith: if someone kicks in a rotten door then some credit at least should go to the door. Still, the balance of the evidence seems to suggest that the external reformer forces were central to the introduction of the direct primary system.

Last updated December 2012