Choosing a candidate in a party primary is fundamentally more complicated than in a general election, experts say.
Scholarly research into how voters choose a candidate in primaries is limited, compared with studies of voter behavior in the general election. But as major contests loom in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday, with Super Tuesday following on March 6, experts agree that voting in primaries is a challenging task.
For starters, you can't simply vote your party. "People use party as a cue extensively in voting," says political scientist David Redlawsk of Rutgers University. It's "the simplest piece of information we normally have. ... Not having that party cue really makes it much more difficult for voters," including independents.
—There are more candidates to consider than just the two leading nominees in November.
—Voters know less about primary candidates than they'll hear later on about the eventual nominees.
—There are generally fewer differences among those candidates than a voter will see between a Republican and Democrat. People who spend a lot of time studying the policy differences "might in fact find themselves more confused than better informed," Redlawsk says.
As his Rutgers colleague Richard Lau sums up in an analysis of the 2008 nominating process, "Voting in primary elections is downright hard."