Wednesday, February 11, 2015

California’s top-two primary hasn’t lived up to reformers’ hopes

California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly has taken some artistic liberties with the state flag. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

In 2012, California instituted its new top-two primary voting system, also known as a nonpartisan blanket primary. This means that after the June primary election, the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to the November general election. So, two candidates from the same party could be running against each other in the general election, which was the case in eight congressional districts during the 2012 election. 

The sponsors of this new election system hoped that it would promote the election of moderate candidates and decrease political polarization in California. However, political scientists are finding that this goal has not been achieved in the elections since 2012. The above article presents the findings of various political scientists that has led to this conclusion.

After learning about different election systems last semester, do you agree with California voters' decision to implement this new system or feel that another system would work better or be more fair? Since merely instituting this system hasn't decreased political polarization, what else could be done to remedy this issue? Is political polarization even a problem needing to be fixed, or should it just be expected and accepted as inevitable?

1 comment:

Jordan Kranzler said...

Although I originally supported the nonpartisan blanket primary system, these new studies make me much more wary of it. The big benefit I saw was reduced polarization in the way of more moderate candidates who didn't have to shape their policy positions to one end of the electorate to win a primary. Now that that doesn't really happen, I think that this system opens California to a host of cons. Now, which party takes a seat is not only dependent on the candidates and their actions, but how many candidates from a particular party run in an election. For example, if a district has a slight Democratic tilt, but two well-known Republicans run and four well-known Democrats do, the four Democrats could split the Democratic vote and the two Republicans could end up winning the primary. This would get a Republican elected in a district that a Democrat would have won had voters been given the simple choice of electing either a Democrat or a Republican. In this case, the elected official would not accurately hold his/her constituent's views, which could be seen as bad for democracy. Now, I don't think a situation like this has happened yet, as most elected officials would try and avoid that, but I get scared that it will. I think that, to reduce political polarization, we have to reform our campaign finance system, maybe finding a way to end Citizens vs. United so these large PACs are less able to push candidates away from the center of the political spectrum. I do think polarization has to be fixed.