Who emerges from smoke-filled rooms? Political parties and candidate selection Articles uri icon



publication date

  • January 2019


  • 1


  • 52

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0176-1714

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1432-217X


  • (copyright) 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.In many countries political parties control who can become a candidate for an election. In this gatekeeping role parties may be tempted to put their own interests first, particularly when voters have little information about candidates. This paper uses a theoretical model to demonstrate that electoral incentives can discipline parties to nominate high-quality candidates even when voters are initially unable to observe quality themselves. In equilibrium voters elect candidates that are ex-ante preferred by the party leader with lower probability. This effectively neutralises the bias of the party leader and induces her to use her superior information to select candidates according to the preferences of the median voter. This result requires that electoral competition is sufficiently strong. If competition is weak, nothing can prevent the party leader from following her own preferences. As ideological alignment between the median voter and a party reduces the degree of competition that this party faces, the median voter can be better off when parties are polarized. Excessively strong competition can be harmful, however, as some politicians cease to be viable candidates and the party leader is less able to select on quality. Allowing the party leadership to nominate candidates strategically makes the benefits of introducing primaries less clear than previously argued in the literature.