Three ways foreign policy can impact the presidential primaries

That is, if we can learn anything from previous U.S. presidential contests, it is that foreign policy issues very rarely determine who wins the general election. As UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck has argued, the economy drives electoral outcomes in most cases and, even when it doesn’t, foreign policy tends to remain a secondary issue. For one, she points out that strong economic performance in a presidential election year is associated with electoral success for the incumbent’s party. And, historically, when a candidate has won the presidency despite economic trends unfavorable to their campaign, foreign policy has not been the deciding factor (Vavreck cites Kennedy ‘60, Nixon ‘68, Carter ‘76, and Bush ‘00 as examples).