Narrow Victories and Hard Games: Revisiting the Primary Divisiveness Hypothesis
American Politics Research
The 2008 presidential election offers a unique opportunity to revisit the hypothesis that a divisive primary exacts a tolls on the party’s general election performance—neither party had a sitting president or vice president seeking the nomination, the Democratic nomination was contested all the way to the end, and advertising data provide a way to gauge both the intensity and tenor of the campaigns. In this article, we take advantage of these circumstances to distinguish between primaries that were competitive and those that were negative and find, contrary to the assumptions in the divisive primary literature, that a close contest does not imply a divisive one. Moreover, we find that Obama was helped by his tight battle with Clinton for the nomination and that the tone of the primaries bore no relationship to his general election performance.