Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Political Research Quarterly







Publisher Name

SAGE Publications


How do working class candidates perform in primary elections? Working class candidates rarely emerge, but existing evidence suggests workers perform as well as white-collar candidates once on the ballot. However, this evidence comes from studies of general elections. It is unknown whether these findings extend to other types of elections like primaries, where candidates compete without the political and financial backing of a party. We collect and analyze novel data describing the occupational background of all candidates who competed in U.S. House primaries between 2008 and 2016. The results show that working class candidates received an average vote share 24 percentage points lower than nonworkers and are 31 percentage points less likely to win their primaries. Controlling for other candidate, contest, and district characteristics helps to attenuate the performance gap. We find mixed evidence that fundraising and prior officeholding experience moderates workers' performance, but weak or no evidence that voter bias, party affiliation, or primary type do so. The study suggests that workers struggle to compete in primaries and calls for further research explaining what prevents workers from winning public office.


Author Posting. © The Author(s) 2023. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of SAGE Publications for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Political Research Quarterly, VOL. 76, ISS.3, September 2023