California primary: First step toward recasting American politics?
California held its first open, nonpartisan primary Tuesday. Low turnout notwithstanding, the results suggest that the new format boosted moderate candidates.
California's pioneering attempt to produce more moderate candidates by tinkering with its primary system appears to have had some success Tuesday.Skip to next paragraph
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Tuesday's primary marked the state's first open, nonpartisan primary for statewide and congressional offices. All voters of could vote for any candidate, regardless of the political party of the voter or candidate, and the top-two vote-getters advanced to the general election, again regardless of party.
The hope is that this system would recast the primary process, which typically forces candidates to move to the left or right in order to win voters.
Historically low turnout of 15 percent – the lowest ever in the state for a presidential primary – makes it hard to draw definitive conclusions from the Tuesday vote. But one survey of the results suggests the system shows promise.
“The new, top two ballot used in California’s primary election appears to give moderate candidates in state races a 6-7 percent boost compared to the traditional, more restricted ballot,” concludes the report by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley.
“It looks like voters want to vote for more moderate candidates and will do so if the ballot provides the opportunity,” said Gabriel Lenz, a UC Berkeley political scientist who led the survey for IGS.
Other analysts are more enthusiastic.
“This election is a turning point,” says David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University. “This is a portent of things to come nationally."
He says that it will take a few election cycles for the evidence of moderation to prove true – and for voters to get used to the new, longer ballots. But he and others agree that the new system points in the direction where American voters are headed. A growing share of Americans is registering as independent, and California's top-two primary allows such voters to be more engaged in the political process.
Now at 21 percent – compared with 43 percent for Democrats and 30 percent for Republicans – " 'decline to state' has been the state’s fastest growing party for some time, as the electorate is increasingly frustrated with the inability of both their state and federal representatives to get the business of governing done,” says Michael Shires, professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.