Campaign Finance in U.S. House Primary and General Elections

January 1, 2001   •  By IFS staff   •    •  ,

This chapter first appeared in Congressional Primaries and the Politics of Representation, edited by Peter F. Galderisi, Michael Lyons, and Marni Ezra (Lanham, MD.:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), pp. 62-76. In this chapter, “Campaign Finance in U.S. House Primary and General Elections,” Jay Goodliffe and David B. Magleby examine how money and electoral competitiveness influence the results of U.S. House primary and general elections.

The authors question the usefulness of primaries in keeping incumbents accountable and creating competitive elections. According to the chapter, close primaries involving incumbents usually seem to result from a combination of two circumstances:  “(1) the incumbent appeared to be vulnerable; and (2) a challenger was able to provide significant funding for his or her own campaign.” They note that primaries add significant costs to a campaign and “create a general disincentive for candidates to run.” If anything, primary elections where an out-party candidate challenges the incumbent result in the reduced likeliness of out-party candidates, decreasing the incentive for incumbents to remain accountable.

For further reading on this issue in other studies by Jay Goodliffe, see:

  • “Campaign Fund-raising and Spending for Deterrence and Savings” (2009)
  • “Campaign War Chests and Challenger Quality in Senate Elections” (2007)
  • “When do War Chests Deter?” (2005)
  • “War Chests as Precautionary Savings” (2004)
  • “The Effect of War Chests on Challenger Entry in U.S. House Elections” (2001)

IFS staff

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