Political Science Research Shows Divided Parties Rarely Win Presidential Elections

March 22, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Trump and Cruz
Photo credit: Screen capture from video by McGregor Show

Bad news for the Republican Party.

A study by political science researchers at the University of Georgia reveals that divided political parties rarely go on to win presidential elections, which means the Republican Party could be in trouble for this year’s general presidential election.

The researchers looked at national party division in past presidential elections, and they found that both national party division and divided state primaries have a significant impact on general election outcomes.

"History shows that when one party is divided and the other party is united, the divided party almost always loses the presidential election," Paul-Henri Gurian, associate professor of political science at UGA's School of Public and International Affairs, said in a press release. "Consider, for example, the elections from 1964 through 1984; in each case the divided party lost."

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If this trend holds true in the 2016 election cycle, the nominee of the divided Republican Party could lose more than 3 percent of the general election vote, the researchers say.

In the Georgia primary, Hillary Clinton received 71 percent of the Democratic vote while Donald Trump received 39 percent of the Republican vote. Based on the historical model used in the study, this divided state primary means that Trump would lose about 1 percent of the Georgia vote in the general election if he were to go on to become the Republican nominee.

National party division has an even greater impact on the results of a general election — it can lead to decreases of more than 3 percent nationwide.

Again, the researchers looked at data from the current presidential election cycle — as of March 16, Trump had received 39.5 percent of the national Republican primary vote and Clinton had received 58.6 percent of the Democratic vote.

If these proportions continue for the remainder of primaries, and if Trump and Hillary go on to win the party nominations, the researchers say Trump would lose 4.5 percent of the vote in the general election compared to what he could have received if the Republican Party wasn’t divided.

"In close elections, such as 2000, 2004 and 2012, 4-5 percent could change the outcome in terms of which party wins the presidency," Gurian said.

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The researchers say that the results of this study can provide political analysts with a way to measure the impact of each primary on the general election results.

“Subtracting the percent of the Republican nominee's total popular vote from that of the Democratic nominee and multiplying that by 0.237 indicates how much the Republican nominee is likely to lose in the November election, compared to what would otherwise be expected,” the press release states.

Since the primaries aren’t over, the 4.5 percent figure is subject to change and can be calculated using the above formula.

Although Trump has been winning the majority of the state primaries, he hasn’t been taking them by a landslide. If he goes on to win the Republican nomination, this division of the Republican Party may very well cost him a victory in the general election.

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