Joshua Kalla: “Candidate Ideology and Vote Choice in the 2020 US Presidential Election”

Joshua Kalla
March 20, 2024

Associate Professor Joshua Kalla has an article in the journal American Politics Research entitled “Candidate Ideology and Vote Choice in the 2020 US Presidential Election.”


A prominent literature argues that moderate candidates perform better in general elections, but a competing literature that emphasizes partisan loyalties contests this. The 2020 Democratic presidential primary represented an opportunity to speak to these debates due to high voter information about multiple moderate and extreme candidates running in the same election. We present results from two national surveys (total n = 102, 425) that asked how respondents would choose in an election between one of the Democratic candidates and Republican Donald Trump. Our evidence is consistent with moderates having an electoral advantage: more moderate Democratic candidates receive more support against Trump than do more extreme candidates. Providing information through plausible attacks did not change these results. Notably, Sanders had the highest support after the moderates, but this was due to an implausibly large increase in intended turnout among young voters. Inconsistent with theories emphasizing the strength of partisan loyalties, Republican voters explain much of this effect.