Electability Politics: How and Why Black Americans Vote in Primary Elections
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How do Black Americans make vote choice decisions in primary elections? This dissertation project answers this question by arguing that Black Americans are highly strategic voters and vote for the candidate that is perceived to be the most electable. I advance the argument that Black voters support candidates in Democratic primary elections that are most likely to beat the Republican candidate in the general election, and that the way in which Black Americans engage in electability politics is unique. Through a series of observational and experimental tests, I show that Black voters rely on considerations about electability to guide vote choice in primary elections. In chapter two I lay out the theoretical framework guiding this project, electability politics, relying on rational choice theory to make the claim that Black voters are strategic. I detail how Black American decision making in primary elections is unique, why Black voters strategically rely on electability to guide their vote choice, when Black voters use this decision-making strategy, and the trade-offs that Black voters make when using this strategy. In chapter three I detail how Black voters determine which candidate is the most electable and find that Black voters turn to ideology, endorsements, and polling to determine who is the most electable. In chapter four, using existing observational data, I show that Black Americans have used this electability politics strategy in Democratic primary contests from the 1980s to the present day. Chapters five and six use experimental methods to show the trade-offs that Black voters make between electability and different types of representation that the literature contends are Black voters’ primary preferences at the voting booth. In chapter five, I argue that Black voters put preferences for electability over descriptive representation. In chapter six, I examine the trade-off that Black Americans make between voting for a candidate that can win the general election and using policy preferences to guide vote choice, arguing that Black Americans prefer electable candidates. Finally, in chapter seven, I discuss the implications of my project, think about how this framework can apply to different groups, and offer future directions for this line of inquiry. While previous literature has only thought about the ways in which Black Americans engage in interparty elections, placing a strong focus on race’s role, and at times, policy’s role in Black politics, this dissertation offers new insights into how and why Black Americans decide between candidates in intraparty elections.
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