Areas of Expertise (13)
Money in Politics
Corporate Political Strategy
Airline Safety and Security
Government Spending and Budgets
Federal Tax Policy
David M. Primo is the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester.
He is the author of three books, including the award-winning Rules and Restraint: Government Spending and the Design of Institutions, and numerous journal articles. His most recent book is Campaign Finance and American Democracy: What the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters, co-authored with Jeff Milyo. His research has been supported by several organizations, including the National Science Foundation.
Primo has published op-eds in national news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times, and he’s been interviewed on radio and television stations including National Public Radio, Bloomberg, and Sirius XM. He has testified before Congress multiple times on the subject of constitutional budget rules and budget process reform, and his campaign finance research was cited in 2011 by Chief Justice John Roberts in a US Supreme Court decision regarding the public funding of elections.
In 2014, Primo created the Politics and Markets Project, which fosters education, research, and debate about the appropriate relationship between business and government in the 21st century. The panel events Primo moderates as part of PMP programming bring together experts from across the political spectrum to debate controversial issues in a civil fashion.
Primo teaches courses in American politics, corporate political strategy, and innovation and global business. He joined the Rochester faculty in 2002 after receiving his PhD in Political Science from Stanford University, where he also received an MA in Economics. He is also a senior affiliated scholar with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Stanford University: Ph.D., Political Science 2002
Stanford University: M.A., Economics 2001
Brown University: M.A., Political Science 1998
Brown University: B.A., Economics and Honors Political Science 1998
- The Mercatus Center at George Mason University : Mercatus Affiliated Scholar
- American Politics Research : Editorial Board
- Center for Competitive Politics : Board of Academic Advisors
Selected Media Appearances (39)
From Hamptons fundraisers to soccer ticket raffles, GOP presidential candidates chase cash
David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, told Newsday, “the tactics we are seeing in the 2024 presidential primaries reflect the trend of small donor support being viewed as a marker of grassroots support.” Primo argued “gimmicks like giving away a $20 gift card in exchange for a $1 donation, as Burgum has done, create ‘AstroTurf donations’ rather than reflect genuine grassroots support, but if it qualifies him for the debate, it gives him a stage on which he can get his message out.”
False claim Trump increased debt more than any president | Fact check
USA Today print
A May 17 Facebook post shows a black and white image of several members of Congress gathered together. "Trump increased that debt far more than any president in history," the post says in part. But contrary to the post’s claim, the total federal debt increased more under former President Barack Obama than it did under the Trump administration, according to David Primo, a political science and business administration professor at the University of Rochester.
FACT FOCUS: Who's to blame for the national debt? It's more complicated than one culprit
The debt accumulated under specific presidents isn’t just a result of their own policies — it reflects decisions made by their predecessors as well as by members of Congress. “The point is that fiscal policy reflects joint action by Congress and the president,” said David Primo, a University of Rochester professor of political science and business administration. Statements like Jeffries’ imply presidents have sole control over fiscal policy, he noted.
US Presidential Hopefuls Rally Against a Digital Dollar Ahead of 2024 Elections
David Primo, a political science professor at the University of Rochester, said that while politicians like DeSantis and Kennedy Jr. are “very different people,” they share a “populist approach to politics.” “They very much view the government with suspicion and as a result it is natural for them to point to this new untested idea of a CBDC and use that as a way to galvanize their base,” Primo said.
Repairing Campus Dialogue
Inside Higher Ed online
David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester who teaches about civil discourse, said it’s easy to understand why students might be more reticent to share their opinions now than in the past. First, he noted, universities now have processes for reporting other students’ speech; Stanford’s anonymous bias incident report system, for one, has been criticized for impeding free expression.
Santos campaign treasurer also worked for Zeldin, other Republicans
David M. Primo, political science professor at the University of Rochester and co-author of “Campaign Finance and American Democracy,” said he didn't find anything "particularly unusual" about Campaign Unlimited working for numerous groups because campaign finance compliance is complex. "Campaigns need to hire outside firms to help manage campaign finance and other campaign management tasks," he said, "and these firms often become identified as Republican or Democratic based on their client base. They may also have a regional focus.”
'Woke mind virus'? 'Corporate wokeness'? Why red America has declared war on corporate America
USA Today print
Corporations have emerged as an important force in American life, says David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester “They are doing this because they believe the corporate voice matters,” Primo said. “If they didn’t think the corporate voice mattered, nobody would be pressuring corporations.”
How Southwest’s holiday meltdown could cause long-term damage to airline’s reputation
Houston Chronicle print
Said David M. Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester: “The thing about reputation is that it takes years to build up, but it can disappear in an instant.
FTX Bankruptcy Means $73 Million in Political Donations at Risk of Being Clawed Back
“Nobody ends up looking great in this,” said David Primo, a political science professor at the University of Rochester. “FTX was so broad-based in their giving.”
Airlines and airports need each other — and also hate each other
“The airports lost a significant amount of money during the pandemic. Of course airlines were also badly hit,” said David Primo, a professor at the University of Rochester. “The difference now is that airlines have recovered, but the airports are still, in their mind, trying to make up for lost time.”
Campaign donations, spending in NY governor's race highest in 20 years
"Spending in the 2022 gubernatorial race reflected the fact that Republicans had their first real chance at the governorship in two decades," said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester who has written extensively on campaign financing. "This spending reflected a robust, competitive election with two candidates offering competing visions for the state and vying for the votes of New Yorkers. Isn’t this what we should want in a democracy?"
GOP wins house majority, sends a message to 'woke' businesses: get out of politics
USA Today print
Increasingly corporations will have to balance activist investors and employees prodding them to take progressive positions and conservatives punishing them for it, said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester. “Corporations are really caught in the middle of the culture wars,” Primo said.
Senate to vote on bill targeting super PACs, 'dark money' in politics
CBS Austin tv
Primo said his research and other studies have found limited impact on trust in government and policy outcomes.
Disney, Florida and how corporations navigate competing political interests
Wisconsin Public Radio radio
The state of Florida revoked Disney's special tax status after the corporation opposed a controversial LGBT law in the state. We explore how corporations navigate competing political interests.
Lt. governor indictment puts spotlight on state campaign finance reform: New York is set to launch a public financing system for political campaigns in the next election cycle
Albany Times Union print
There are plenty of other "creative" ways Albany politicians have been corrupt that have nothing to do with campaign contributions, said David Primo.
Biden Hits Road for First Fundraisers as President
Voice of America radio
"Basically, people were mistrustful of the government before Citizens United, and they were mistrustful of the government after," said David Primo.
The latest on Democrats' plan to tax billionaires to pay for spending bill
Wisconsin Public Radio radio
Democrats are hoping to impose a new tax on the ultra-rich as part of a social policy and climate package they want to pass this week. We look at how the proposal would work, why conservatives are opposed to it, and how likely it is to pass.
New Georgia campaign finance law is ‘carving a loophole’
US News & World Report print
What’s interesting here is that they’ve created this, essentially, law that almost by design is going to benefit incumbents,” says David Primo, the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and a professor of political science and business administration, and author of a book about campaign finance. “And so usually you don’t see something that’s so transparently anti-challenger. Usually, it’s at least couched in some sort of rhetoric about campaign finance. That’s what makes this a little bit unusual.”
Investigation: How campaign cash flowed to Cranley from Liberty and Elm project team
Cincinnati Enquirer and MSN online
"It's so easy to say, 'Let's ban campaign contributions,' but the problem is much deeper," said David Primo at the University of Rochester.
Op-ed: Reformers say HR1 will fortify our democracy. Science shows it won't
Roll Call online
HR1, the For the People Act of 2021, is riddled with claims that do not hold up when subjected to scientific scrutiny.
How the National Debt Affects Your Investments
US News & World Report print
It is a long-run problem and the sooner we start dealing with it, the better off we'll be as a country, says David Primo at University of Rochester.
CEOs spurn Trump and his allies: How big a blow?
Christian Science Monitor online
This is primarily a symbolic move as a way to send a signal to the Republican Party that the violence ... is simply not acceptable, says David Primo.
Credit union-backed lawmakers among those contesting election
American Banker online
There are more demands now for corporations to behave in a socially responsible way, said David Primo. Social media has amplified that.
‘Zoom-bombing’ prevention and socially distanced porch parties: How the pandemic has changed political fundraising in Maryland
Baltimore Sun print
David Primo at the University of Rochester thinks that post-pandemic, campaigns will use virtual events to complement in-person events.
Op-ed: Personal Data About Small-Donor Democrats Is All Over the Internet
New York Times print
One of the largest single disclosures of small-donor information in American history took place on July 31. On that day, the names, addresses, occupations and employers of at least 2.3 million people who contributed money to 2020 Democratic presidential candidates were listed on the internet for all to see. The culprits were not Russian hackers or disgruntled tech workers, but the Democratic presidential candidates and the federal government.
Why 2020 candidates seek small-dollar campaign contributions
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders likes to talk up grassroots support of his presidential campaign, and one of his favorite metrics is individual donations. "I feel very good with the fact that we have now received some 2 million individual contributions — which I think is an all-time world's record — up to this point, averaging all of $19 apiece," Sanders said in a recent interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Could we fact-check that? Not under today's campaign finance rules. "Under federal campaign finance laws, contributions from a single individual to a single candidate do not have to be reported until they exceed $200, so, unless Sanders chooses to voluntarily disclose the information for small contributions in his FEC filings, there is no way to verify the information," said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester in New York. "It would be interesting to see how Sanders' numbers compare with other candidates" in the 2020 race, said Primo.
Boeing has a New Problem
Marketplace Business News (American Public Media) radio
There's a new problem with Boeing's troubled 737 Max plane, the aircraft that was involved in those two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Boeing says the Federal Aviation Administration has asked it to “address” the problem through the software changes it's already making to the 737 Max. The problem appears to be related to how pilots can control the jet if the system that automatically pushes its nose down malfunctions. “You know, planes fly themselves to a large degree, but it's the judgement of the pilot in those one-in-a-million shots that is going to make the difference between that plane landing and that plane not landing,” said David Primo, who teaches political science and business administration at the University of Rochester.
When corporations take a stance on divisive issues
WCNY Capitol Pressroom online
Corporations such as Nike and Chick-fil-A have made headlines by taking positions on divisive issues. But is it wise for corporations to take political stands? How does doing so affect their image, customer loyalty, and ultimately their bottom line? David Primo, the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and an associate professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, appeared recently on Capitol Pressroom, a WCNY radio production, to discuss mixing advocacy and business.
One Cut Not Seen in Trump Budget: the Debt
US News and World Report
The Trump budget seeks to cut spending by slicing away at non-military, domestic programs. Aside from whatever impact those cuts would have on various groups of citizens, experts say, such budget cuts would do little to get at the behemoth-sized debt and deficit. It's what David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, calls the "Starbucks latte" fallacy – that if an individual is trying to get a personal budget under control, the thing to do is to eliminate the daily pricey coffee drink. In fact the federal budget – and most people's personal budgets – require far more structural and dramatic changes to become balanced and healthy, he says. "It doesn't work – not in personal finance and not in government finance," Primo says. "I think it would be very difficult to find a political scientist or economist who thinks we can deal with the nation's fiscal issues by making cuts in domestic spending."
A Concise History of Presidential Commentary on the Stock Market
Trump often talks about the market and uses it as a barometer of his success. Since his election, he's tweeted about stocks more than 35 times. “President Trump, unlike previous presidents, has staked much of his economic success on the stock market. It's not crazy in that sense to encourage people to buy stocks,” said David Primo, associate professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester. “It's atypical for presidents generally, but given the way the president has developed his economic platform, it's not that unusual.”
TSA agent call-outs yet to hit Logan Airport
Boston Herald print
Airports across the country are seeing TSA security screeners calling out from work as the country enters the third week of a partial government shutdown. TSA employees are expected to work without pay during the partial shutdown because their jobs are considered essential. David M. Primo, an expert in airport safety and security and a professor at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, said flight security is not a risk but there could be inconveniences should call outs from TSA agents continue. “If the walkout grows significantly, there may be increased wait times at checkpoints, or worst-case scenario, some checkpoints might close, leading to delays and flight cancellations. But those are inconveniences, not threats to the security of the nation's skies,” he said.
Op-ed: Markets Weren’t Spooked by a President Trump
Wall Street Journal print
What investors feared was an indecisive election. Once the winner became clear, confidence returned.
Op-ed: Wobbly Policies Make For a Shaky Economy
Wall Street Journal print
Washington’s uncertain signals on everything from taxes to health care force businesses to be cautious.
Op-ed: The Stock Market Doesn’t Care About Elections
The New York Times print
Co-authored by Trung A. Dang, the op-ed looks at how much investors care about U.S. elections.
Dodd-Frank? More Like Dud-Frank for Lots of Folks
Interviewed by Mark Koba about the impact of the Dodd Frank financial reform bill.
Political scientist Primo says Americans should worry about government control of social media
University of Rochester Newscenter online
Rochester political scientist David Primo says Americans should be worried when politicians discuss the need to control the media. The debate follows in the wake of targeted Russian misinformation campaigns on social media during the last general election. Congress is currently considering legislation that would regulate political advertising on social media...
Op-ed: It's Not the Economy Stupid -- It's Entitlement Spending
US News & World Report online
Opinion piece about the political impact of the economy during election periods.
Op-ed: New Jersey Least Corrupt? Ha, Ha
Wall Street Journal print
The flawed methodology behind the recent 'State Integrity Investigation.'
Op-Ed: Obama's Budget Blind Spot
Los Angeles Times print
The stimulus act taught us that the country would be better served if the president did less tinkering in his budget and more leading.
Selected Articles (6)
Risky Business: Do Disclosure and Shareholder Approval of Corporate Political Contributions Affect Firm Performance?Business and Politics
Saumya Prabhat and David M. Primo
2018 The role of corporations in the US political process has received increased scrutiny in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, leading to calls for greater regulation. In this paper, we analyze whether policies mandating greater disclosure and shareholder approval of political contributions reduce risk and increase firm value, as proponents of such rules claim. Specifically, we examine the Neill Committee Report (NCR), which led to the passage of the United Kingdom’s Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act 2000 mandating new disclosure and shareholder approval rules. We find that politically active firms did not benefit from the NCR in the days after its release and suffered a decline in value in the months and years that followed. Politically active firms also suffered an increase in risk, as proxied by stock return volatility, following the release of the NCR. We theorize that these findings are due to the reduced flexibility these rules impose on corporate strategy as well as the potential for these rules to facilitate political activism against corporations.
Policy dynamics and electoral uncertainty in the appointments processJournal of Theoretical Politics
Jinhee Jo, David M Primo, Yoji Sekiya,
2016 By incorporating electoral uncertainty and policy dynamics into three two-period models of the appointments process, we show that gridlock may not always occur under divided government, contrary to the findings of static one-shot appointments models. In these cases, contrary to the ally principle familiar to students of bureaucratic politics, the president or the confirmer is willing to move the court away from his or her ideal point as a way to insulate against worse outcomes in period two. By demonstrating how a simple set of changes to a workhorse model can change equilibrium outcomes significantly, this paper provides a foundation for reconsidering the static approach to studying political appointments.
Using Item Response Theory to Improve Measurement in Strategic Management Research: an Application to Corporate Social ResponsibilityStrategic Management Journal
Robert J. Carroll, David M. Primo, Brian K. Richter
2016 This article uses item response theory (IRT) to advance strategic management research, focusing on an application to corporate social responsibility (CSR). IRT explicitly models firms’ and individuals’ observable actions in order to measure unobserved, latent characteristics. IRT models have helped researchers improve measures in numerous disciplines. To demonstrate their potential in strategic management, we show how the method improves on a key measure of corporate social responsibility and corporate social performance (CSP), the KLD Index, by creating what we term D-SOCIAL-KLD scores, and associated estimates of their accuracy, from the underlying data. We show, for instance, that firms such as Apple may not be as “good” as previously thought, while firms such as Walmart may perform better than typically believed. We also show that the D-SOCIAL-KLD measure outperforms the KLD Index and factor analysis in predicting new CSR-related activity.
State Constitutions and Fiscal PolicyMERCATUS RESEARCH
This paper proposes a framework for studying the relationship between fiscal policy and state constitutions in terms of direct and indirect fiscal restraints and pressures.
Disclosing Disclosure: Lessons from a “Failed” Field ExperimentThe Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics
David Primo, Dick M. Carpenter II, Pavel Tendetnik, and Sandy Ho
In a recent issue of The Forum, Fortier and Malbin call for more research into the effects of disclosure requirements for campaign finance. In this paper, we report the results of a field experiment designed to assess whether such rules dissuade potential contributors due to privacy concerns.
Information at the Margin: Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws, Ballot Issues, and Voter KnowledgeEthical Law Journal
This paper proposes a framework for studying the relationship between fiscal policy and state constitutions in terms of direct and indirect fiscal restraints and pressures. Fiscal restraints such as balanced budget rules limit the scope of government, while fiscal pressures such as education rights expand or place demands on government.