Dissertation Defense: Alexander Podkul

Candidate Name: Alexander Podkul

Major: Government

Advisor: Michael Bailey, Ph.D.

Title: Primary Elections and Political Polarization: Exploring Ideological Heterogeneity in Primary Electorates

Are congressional primary electorates ideologically representative of nonvoters? Previous literature exploring the policy preferences held by primary voters neglects both cross-cycle changing electoral conditions and cross-constituency political contours. This dissertation proposes a different approach for studying the ideological representativeness of primary electorates by considering heterogeneity across both cycles and constituencies.  Leveraging variation in this representativeness, the project further tests the association between primary voters and political polarization.   

To examine this question, we analyze both primary voter ideology and voting behavior. Studying primary voter ideology, the first data set in this project generates constituency-level measures of primary electorates' relative ideological scores for partisans within states and congressional districts.  The measures are developed using ideal points estimated from a battery of policy preference items asked by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which are then modeled at the constituency level using national voter file data. Studying voter behavior, the second data set explores primary voters' vote choices using an expansive series of district-level exit polls.

The results from this project indicate significant primary voter ideological heterogeneity across electorates of both major political parties at both the state and congressional district levels. Further findings demonstrate that primary electorates in extreme districts are asymmetrically polarized with Republican primary voters being more extreme under more conservative conditions than Democratic primary voters in more liberal districts. Additional results, however, suggest a lack of association between extremist primary electorates and extremism among party nominees and elected officials, contrary to conventional wisdom.

This dissertation suggests new perspectives for considering the ideological representativeness of primary voters. By doing so, the project's findings cast doubt upon claims of primary voters contributing to contemporary polarization.

Thursday, June 20, 2019 at 12:00pm to 2:00pm

Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 662
37th and O St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Georgetown College, Government, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Paula Evans

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