In U.S. politics, a primary challenge is when an incumbent holding elective office is challenged by a member of their own political party in a primary election. Such events, known informally as "being primaried," are noteworthy and not frequent in the United States, as traditionally political parties support incumbents, both for party unity and to minimize the possibility of losing the seat to an opposing party. In addition, officeholders are frequently seen as de facto leaders of their 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. Though typically used to describe challenges to elected officials, the term is also applied to officeholders such as appointed U.S. senators.[1]

Frequency in safe seats edit

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 participation edit

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."

Notable primary challenges edit

Presidential edit

Since the advent of the modern primary election system in 1972, an incumbent president has never been defeated by a primary challenger, though every president who faced a strong primary challenge went on to be defeated in the general election.[2][3]

U.S. Senate edit

Sabato's Crystal Ball tabulated that from 1946 to 2018, only 4% of incumbent U.S. senators running in primaries were unseated by challengers. This figure includes incumbents running unopposed or against paper candidates, meaning credible primary challengers have a higher rate of success.[8]

U.S. House edit

From 1946 to 2018, only 1.6% of incumbent representatives running in primaries were defeated by challengers. This percentage also includes incumbents running against other incumbents because of House seats being eliminated by reapportioning, which are typically not referred to as primary challenges; if reapportioning years are excluded less than 1% of incumbents are defeated. This also includes incumbents running unopposed or against paper candidates, meaning credible primary challengers have a higher rate of success.[17]

Governors edit

As of 2018, 14% of incumbent governors running in contested primaries were defeated by challengers.[22]

References edit

  1. ^ "Luther Strange Gets First Primary Challenger". Roll Call. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  2. ^ Silver, Nate (2020-01-09). "How Our Primary Model Works". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  3. ^ Perticone, Joe. "No sitting president has survived a serious primary challenge in the past 50 years. Here's why Trump should be worried". Business Insider. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  4. ^ "How Ted Kennedy's '80 Challenge To President Carter 'Broke The Democratic Party'". NPR.org. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  5. ^ The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission
  6. ^ Little, Becky. "How Ronald Reagan's 1976 Convention Battle Fueled His 1980 Landslide". HISTORY. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  7. ^ a b "Could Trump Lose the Republican Nomination? Here's the History of Primary Challenges to Incumbent Presidents". Time. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  8. ^ Kondik, Kyle. "Senate 2020: The Primary Challengers – Sabato's Crystal Ball". Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  9. ^ "Pelosi endorses Kennedy over Markey in contentious primary". POLITICO. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  10. ^ "Why Lugar Lost". National Review. 2012-05-08. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  11. ^ Martin, Jonathan. "Obama gives Specter 'full support'". POLITICO. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  12. ^ "Lisa Murkowski Makes History, Wins Alaska Senate Race But Joe Miller Not Conceding". ABC News. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  13. ^ "Lieberman Loses Connecticut Senate Primary". NPR. 2006-08-09. Retrieved 2021-10-08.
  14. ^ Belluck, Pam (2002-09-11). "Senator Smith Ousted in Republican Primary in New Hampshire (Published 2002)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  15. ^ Cole, Jim (September 10, 2002). "Sununu ousts Smith in New Hampshire primary". Associated Press. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  16. ^ "An Illinois Democrat Voted to Confirm Clarence Thomas. It Ended His Political Career". Chicago Magazine. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  17. ^ Kondik, Kyle. "House 2020: Incumbents Hardly Ever Lose Primaries – Sabato's Crystal Ball". Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  18. ^ "Here's how 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump fared in the 2022 primary season". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  19. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (2018-09-05). "Ayanna Pressley Upsets Capuano in Massachusetts House Race (Published 2018)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  20. ^ Pramuk, Jacob (2018-06-12). "Trump alludes to GOP Rep. Mark Sanford's extramarital affair as he endorses primary challenger". CNBC. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  21. ^ Ball, Molly (2014-06-11). "Eric Cantor's Loss: A Stunning Upset". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  22. ^ Skelley, Geoffrey. "A Failure to Launch? Kansas' Republican Gubernatorial Contest and the History of Incumbent Governor Primary Performance – Sabato's Crystal Ball". Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  23. ^ "Governor Frank Murkowski Loses Re-election Bid in Alaska Primary". PBS NewsHour. 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2021-02-27.

External links edit

  • 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]