Hassell publishes book exploring primary elections

Primary elections were created to give voters more of a voice in candidate selection before the general election. Cornell College Professor of Politics Hans Hassell has researched the topic for years and discovered there’s more to the story.

Hans Hassell
Professor of Politics Hans Hassell

He explains his findings in his new book “The Party’s Primary,” published by Cambridge University Press, which is a project that started when he witnessed the influence party organizations and party elites had on the nomination process while he was working as a staff member on political campaigns. He noticed that sometimes the party very clearly wanted a candidate out of the process, and it would work swiftly to remove those candidates from the running.

“The common discourse on primaries, campaigns, and elections among academics has been that they are ‘candidate-centered’ and that primaries had essentially eliminated the ability of party insiders to control the process,” Hans said. “I wrote this book because I knew first-hand that wasn’t the case, and I wanted to show that. Parties and party elites become involved in the nomination process, they coordinate behind a preferred candidate, and that coordination shapes both the nomination process and the outcomes of the primary election.”

Hassell said parties have a variety of tools they can use to control what happens in a primary, and it’s more than just money. Understanding these resources accessible to parties can help people understand why some anti-establishment candidates are more successful than others.

In the book, Hassell draws on data from over 3,000 primary elections between 2004 and 2014 and from a large number of interviews with political elites. These interviews provide a better picture of the process and the inside tactics of parties.

“Party elites talked about the process of coordination and the tactics that parties used to help their preferred candidates and encourage others candidates to drop out,” Hassell said. “There’s one story in the book about a candidate who the party didn’t want to win because they were afraid if that candidate won, the party would lose the general election. When that candidate approached the national party for a recommendation about who to hire as a staffer in one of the key campaign roles, party leaders intentionally suggested the candidate hire the least competent of the options to make it more difficult for the candidate to win.”

The book is accessible to an undergraduate audience and for those interested in the behind-the-scenes work going on in the world of politics.

“The Party’s Primary” will be released by the beginning of January of 2018. Readers can order a copy on Amazon or through Cambridge University Press.