The Primary Effect: Preference Votes and Political Promotions

american_political-science-reviewThe Primary Effect: Preference Votes and Political Promotions

Olle Folke, Uppsala University and Research Institute for Industrial Economics
Torsten Persson, Stockholm University and CIFAR
Johanna Rickne, Research Institute for Industrial Economics and UCLS

In this analysis of how electoral rules and outcomes shape the internal organization of political parties, we make an analogy to primary elections to argue that parties use preference-vote tallies to identify popular politicians and promote them to positions of power. We document this behavior among parties in Sweden’s semi-open-list system and in Brazil’s open-list system. To identify a causal impact of preference votes, we exploit a regression discontinuity design around the threshold of winning the most preference votes on a party list. In our main case, Sweden, these narrow “primary winners” are at least 50% more likely to become local party leaders than their runners-up. Across individual politicians, the primary effect is present only for politicians who hold the first few positions on the list and when the preference-vote winner and runner-up have similar competence levels. Across party groups, the primary effect is the strongest in unthreatened governing parties. Read more.


American Political Science Review / Volume 110, Issue 3 August 2016, pp. 559-578