Great question: in order to defeat Hugo Chávez in 2012, should the Venezuelan opposition presidential candidates bloody each other with bare knuckles in primaries rather than maintain unity by using velvet gloves? Juan Cristóbal Nagel says yes. Some commenters, including co-blogger Francisco Toro, say no. Others are in between.
Juan argues that going at each other gets all the bad stuff out in public early, so everyone knows about it well before the general election. He notes that Barack Obama was hammered by Hillary Clinton but still won the general election. On the other hand, Americans are used to the system and Venezuelans have never experienced a presidential primary process. Will they react the same way?
For some context in the U.S. case, consider this 1998 article by Lonna Rae Atkeson in American Journal of Political Science:
Theory: The divisive primary hypothesis asserts that the more divisive the presidential primary contest compared to that of the other party the fewer votes received in the general election. Thus the party candidate with the most divisive primary will have a more difficult general election fight. However, studies at the presidential level have failed to consider candidate quality, prior vulnerability of the incumbent president or his party, the national nature of the presidential race, and the unique context of each presidential election campaign. Once these factors are taken into account presidential primaries should have a more marginal or even nonexistent effect in understanding general election outcomes.
Hypothesis: Including appropriate controls for election year context in a state-by-state model and creating a national model that controls for election year context, candidate quality, and the nature of the times should diminish the effect of nomination divisiveness on general election outcomes.
In other words, it may not matter much.