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Strategy and Choice in the 1988 Presidential Primaries

Cain, Bruce E. and Lewis, I. A. and Rivers, Douglas (1988) Strategy and Choice in the 1988 Presidential Primaries. Social Science Working Paper, 686. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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In recent years, thinking about the American Presidential primaries has been dominated by the image of Carter's victory in 1976. Conventional wisdom in the eighties has advised Presidential candidates to focus on the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and to at least match, or better yet, exceed the expectations that the press, pollsters, and pundits have for them in those states. The successful campaign, it was thought, had to force the competition out by the end of March in order to lock up the nomination before the convention. This common wisdom - the so-called "momentum theory" - will now have to be revised as a result of what happened in the 1988 primaries. While one candidate from each patty did eventually emerge victorious in 1988, no one followed the Carter script as closely as expected. The Democratic race was not clearly resolved until Dukakis managed consecutive victories over Jackson in Wisconsin (April 5), New York (April 19) and Pennsylvania (April 26). On the Republican side, even though the race was over after Super Tuesday, the conventional "momentum" story was still marred by the odd-and in the end, meaningless-­outcome in Iowa Republican caucuses. Bush exceeded expectations in Iowa, but in a negative direction, and both Dole and Robertson were unable to convert their successes into any advantage in New Hampshire and the South. In this paper, we use data from a series of 12 exit polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times to explain the course of the 1988 Democratic and Republican presidential primary campaigns. The Los Angeles Times sample of primaries includes the critical early Democratic and Republican contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, six Super Tuesday states, and the Democratic primaries in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and California. The story we tell is quite simple. Momentum in both races was slowed by regionalism, and in the Democratic contest specifically, by the non-strategic support that blacks and affluent liberal whites gave Jesse Jackson. Momentum accelerated in the New York and Pennsylvania primaries as moderate and Jewish voters strategically switched to Dukakis in order to block Jesse Jackson's nomination. Both Bush and Dukakis staked out positions for themselves near the center of the ideological spectrum in their respective parties. As it turned out, the distribution of voter preferences, combined with strategic complications typical of multicandidate races, served to make the middle an advantageous spot for the victorious candidates.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
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Additional Information:Published as Cain, Bruce E., I. A. Lewis, and Douglas Rivers. "Strategy and choice in the 1988 presidential primaries." Electoral Studies 8, no. 1 (1989): 23-48.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:686
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170905-152412682
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:81158
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:05 Sep 2017 22:36
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:39

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