Wendland Research Yields New Insights into How Voters are Influenced by Electoral Rules

By | March 29, 2022

Jay Wendland, associate professor in the Department of History and Political Science at Daemen, has co-authored a study – “The Consequences of Changing Primary Participation Laws for Party Registration and Partisanship,” with Barbara Norrander, professor of political science at the University of Arizona.

The paper, as part of a book-length project on U.S. presidential elections, focuses on how rules in primary elections can impact the behavior of voters – and the degree to which candidates chosen are representative of their respective party.

Jay Wendland

Open primaries – which allow any registered voter to vote in the primary for any political party – encourage voters to see themselves more as independents, the study found. 

“Still, open primaries tend to lead voters to pick a more partisan candidate, which may go against some previously held assumptions,” said Wendland.  

Closed primaries, more moderate candidates

The study also found evidence that voters tend to identify more with a particular political party in states with “closed” primaries (where voters must declare a party to receive a primary ballot). 

“With closed primaries, it turns out that party voters are more diverse – they’re not all extreme partisans. What’s more, this diversity tends to lead to more moderate candidates than ‘open’ primaries,” said Wendland. “Both of these findings are surprising.”

Primary voting rules are set by the major parties in each U.S. state – leading to many different sets of rules nationwide.

“It’s not uncommon to see changes – every four years a state could change their process,” said Wendland. “Our study could be informative to those who are establishing rules – and seeking to encourage particular outcomes – in primary elections to come.”