Public Choice

, Volume 178, Issue 1–2, pp 115–151 | Cite as

Candidate competition and voter learning in the 2000–2012 US presidential primaries

  • George DeltasEmail author
  • Mattias K. Polborn


When candidates in primary elections are ideologically differentiated (e.g., conservatives and moderates in the Republican Party), then candidates with similar positions affect each others’ vote shares more strongly than candidates with different ideological positions. We measure this effect in US presidential primaries and show that it is of first-order importance. We also show that voters’ beliefs about the candidates harden over the course of the primary, as manifested in the variability of candidate vote shares. We discuss models of sequential voting that cannot yield that pattern of results, and propose an explanation based on a model with horizontally and vertically differentiated candidates and incompletely informed voters. Consistent with the predictions of this model, we also show that, in more conservative states, low-quality conservative candidates do better relative to high-quality conservatives, and vice versa.


Voting Primary elections Simultaneous versus sequential elections 

JEL Classification

D72 D60 



We would like to acknowledge useful comments by Jeff Milyo, Jungmo Yoon, and seminar participants at Hanyang University, the University of Cyprus, University of Missouri, the University of Pireus, SUNY Stony Brook, and at the American Economic Association Annual Meetings.

Supplementary material

11127_2018_620_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (163 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 162 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Lancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  3. 3.Department of Economics and Department of Political ScienceVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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