Do Primaries Improve Electoral Performance? Clientelism and Intra-Party Conflict in Ghana


  • We thank Jorge Domínguez, Adam Glynn, Barak Hoffman, Macartan Humphreys, Joseph Luna, Amanda Pinkston, Alastair Smith, and workshop participants at Harvard and CAPERS (Columbia/NYU) for comments, and Abel Boreto, Sangu Delle, Daniel Kroop, Jitka Vinduskova, and Sumorwuo Zaza for their research assistance. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2011 Midwest Political Science Association meeting in Chicago, IL. We gratefully acknowledge grant support from the Committee on African Studies and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. Replication files and data are available at

Nahomi Ichino is Associate Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138 ( Noah L. Nathan is Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138 (


We consider the effect of legislative primaries on the electoral performance of political parties in a new democracy. While existing literature suggests that primaries may either hurt a party by selecting extremist candidates or improve performance by selecting high valence candidates or improving a party’s image, these mechanisms may not apply where clientelism is prevalent. A theory of primaries built instead on a logic of clientelism with intra-party conflict suggests different effects of legislative primaries for ruling and opposition parties, as well as spillover effects for presidential elections. Using matching with an original dataset on Ghana, we find evidence of a primary bonus for the opposition party and a primary penalty for the ruling party in the legislative election, while legislative primaries improve performance in the presidential election in some constituencies for both parties.