While primaries were once associated almost exclusively with the United States, similar methods for selecting party leaders and candidates have lately become common in many parliamentary democracies. This considerable expansion of intra-party democracy has resulted in the rising popularity and increased usage of the term ‘primary’ election. However, despite the popularisation of the term, little work has been done to create a clear definition and to identify the range of selection methods that fall under this umbrella. Without conceptual clarity and a common definition, we lack the necessary tools for comparative work. This paper identifies the point at which a participatory selection method can be labelled a party primary. We begin by examining the conceptual muddle concerning primaries and propose a path that allows for clarification of the concept. We then present a definition of primaries focusing on their three main characteristics and conclude by providing a typology of the various types of primaries.
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© 2015 McDougall Trust, London.