In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Recruitment and Selection for Elected Office

  • Introduction
  • Candidate Selection as a Key Role of Political Parties
  • Comparative Databases

Political Science Recruitment and Selection for Elected Office
Scott Morgenstern, Peter Siavelis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0272


Candidate recruitment and selection determines who is elected to participate in elections and eventually govern a polity. As a result of its critical role for representation and how a democratic political system functions, political scientists have developed an extensive literature on recruitment and selection, exploring the theme theoretically and empirically, both over time and across polities. The literature regarding political recruitment and candidate selection of elected offices touches many central aspects of party politics, and thus a bibliography can be extremely broad. It could include, for example, the extensive literature on reelection and the advantages of incumbency, as well as the tremendous body of works that focus on the US South during the period of one-party hegemony. Recruitment, further, could touch on social theory about how citizens are informally attracted to participate. This bibliography, however, will focus on works that deal explicitly with the selection and recruitment of elected offices, dividing the works into those that focus on the United States and those considering other world regions. Works in both parts also include extensive theoretical discussions. The bibliography is further divided based on works that consider executives and legislatures. In addition to general theory, it includes an extensive section on primaries both for the US case and in a comparative perspective, and offers a short section on studies that provide databases. One special topic that it considers is gender, which we cover by considering studies that evaluate quotas, biases, and the propensity of women to participate in electoral politics. Overall, the literature asks two basic questions: (1) How do the recruitment methods affect the types of candidates selected? (2) What are the political impacts of those methods? A third, related, question is also asked: What drives the choice of the methods themselves? Among the themes covered by the literature cited in this bibliography are rules and regulations governing the process, the party system and other contextual variables (e.g., federalism) that affect who is involved in selecting or naming candidates, party recruitment strategies, the influence of money and the media on candidate selection, voter knowledge about candidates, how and the extent to which voters participate in the process, and the influence of any of these factors on representation, campaigns, and legislator or party behavior.

Candidate Selection as a Key Role of Political Parties

In describing and explaining the organization and role of political parties, classic political science literature confronts the central role of candidate selection. The overarching goals of these works vary. Schattschneider 1942, for example, is concerned with the weakness of parties, while Key 1942 is interested in describing the interrelation of parties and pressure groups, and Schlesinger 1966 focuses on political ambition. Epstein 1980 takes a different tack, putting the US parties into a comparative framework in an effort to show how context affects the role and organization of parties. Katz 2001 adds an important critique to the literature, showing that the recruitment process creates tension between party leadership and popular interests; the resulting systems sometimes provide more of an illusion of a democratic system than is the reality. Duverger 1954, finally, is a classic comparative text that addresses candidate selection due to concerns with the organization of parties.

  • Duverger, Maurice. Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1954.

    This book, which mostly focuses on Europe but includes the United States and other cases as well, focuses on party structures and party systems. It is best known for its predictions that relate the number of parties to the electoral system (“first past the post” versus proportional representation). Within the book’s discussion of party structures, an important emphasis is on party organization, which leads to a concern with participation of party membership on candidate selection (and other topics).

  • Epstein, Leon D. Political Parties in Western Democracies. 2d ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1980.

    In one of the first attempts to use the US experience in a comparative framework, the book includes chapters on recruitment that emphasize social class and other factors on the methods of recruitment, and considers whether a system is open or closed, as well as the role of mass-membership organizations.

  • Katz, Richard S. “The Problem of Candidate Selection and Models of Party Democracy.” Party Politics 7.3 (2001): 77–296.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354068801007003002

    Finding a dilemma for parties (especially “cartel” parties) in that a party’s candidates need to represent the popular will but must also be responsive to leadership, the author argues that some parties dissemble, creating a system of recruitment that appears more open than is the actual case. Parties could exert their influence, for example, by limiting options open to local selectorates, or perhaps by allowing more inclusiveness to reduce the power of local officials.

  • Key, V. O., Jr. Politics Parties and Pressure Groups. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1942.

    This classic work explores the interrelations of parties and pressure groups, and their inner workings.

  • Schattschneider, Elmer Eric. Party Government. New York: Rinehart, 1942.

    In this classic work on political parties in the United States, the author defends the thesis that “political parties created democracy and modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties.” He then famously notes that “if a party cannot make nominations it ceases to be a party” (p. 64). Also relevant to the theme of candidate selection, the author discusses the role of local bosses and the insignificance of national conventions.

  • Schlesinger, Joseph A. Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966.

    This classic text introduced the idea of ambition as a prime motivator for US politicians. The simple but powerful idea is that ambition structures behavior.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.