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A primary challenge occurs in U.S. politics when an incumbent elected official is challenged in an upcoming primary election by a member of their own political party. Such events, known informally as "being primaried," are noteworthy and not frequent in the United States, as tradition dictates that members of a political party support officeholders of the same party, both for party unity and to minimize the possibility of loss of the seat to an opposing party.

In addition, officeholders are frequently seen as de facto leaders of their political party, eligible to establish policy and administer affairs as they see fit. A primary challenge thus interferes with this "spoil of office," and is largely discouraged.

Frequency in Safe SeatsEdit

In jurisdictions predominantly under the political control of a single political party, or where the overwhelming majority of registered voters (in jurisdictions that require party registration) belong to a single party (a "safe seat"), there is likely to be less fear of opposing parties gaining sufficient support to mount a credible challenge. In such an area, particularly those that have been gerrymandered, members of the party feel more at ease to challenge current officeholders, because no loss of the seat is expected.

Skewed Electorate and Issue Advocacy Group ParticipationEdit

Primary elections in the United States generally draw a very low voter turnout. In addition, only a small portion of the public may be educated on the issue stances of all primary candidates, as primary elections typically use little or no mass media advertising. Party activists, ideologues, and local party leaders may constitute an unusually high number of, or exert disproportionate levels of influence on, those who actually vote.

This situation provides opportunities for organizations focused on a single issue, such as gun control, taxation, or abortion. Such organizations may be able to convince their supporters to endure the difficulty of voting, while other eligible voters may not want to take the trouble for a "minor election."

External linksEdit

  • G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young, An Electoral Oasis, Politically Uncorrected, Franklin & Marshall College Center for Politics & Public Affairs [1]
  • Bruce E. Cain, Karin Mac Donald and Michael McDonald, From Equality to Fairness: The Path of Political Reform since Baker v Carr, address to the Brookings Institution/Institute of Governmental Studies, Conference on "Competition, Partisanship, and Congressional Redistricting", April 16, 2004 [2]
  • Amity Shlaes, CAFTA vote about more than trade, Jewish World Review, May 18, 2005 [3]