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In an era of rising populism, who supports primary election reforms? Scholars frequently characterize the demand for political reforms as driven by a motivation to force politicians to follow the will of the people. Recent changes such as California’s “top-two” primary were intended to further “good government” ends and to help elect moderate or compromise-oriented candidates. Frustrated voters, and those with a low sense of political efficacy, may turn to populist politicians. The open question: will supporters of more populist leaders also support primary reforms? Using a large-sample survey implemented just prior to the contentious 2020 general election, we ask voters about their preferences over primary type. Our findings draw attention to the underdeveloped connection between populism and reform. While, in general, voters with low political efficacy are more likely to favor the top-two rules, we also find support for primary election reforms is not symmetric between party wings. Voters tending to favor liberal champions express greater relative support for rules like the top-two primary than supporters of the more populist conservative champions. In addition, the results are broadly consistent in asking voters about more “open” party primaries versus more “closed” ones. We conclude by discussing the implications of these results both for scholars interested in parties and populism and for the study of primary elections.

Rex Deng

Written by Rex Deng

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