You're Viewing the Archives
Return to IVN's Frontpage

New Electoral System in CA Means More Competitive Races, Data Reveals

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

california moderates Brandon Bourdages /

Supporters of California's open primary system have long held that the recent change to the primary election process would result in more competitive races and thereby increase the strength of each person's vote. Opponents have scoffed at this idea and said that not only would the system fail, but it would result in polar extremes of conservative and progressive ideologies winning elections.

The latest information on the effects top-two open primary had on the 2012 state and federal elections in California reveals that the new system does, in fact, result in more competition, increased cross-over voting, and leads to more moderates being elected to the State Legislature. Tweet the news: Tweet

Top-two open primary was implemented in California by Proposition 14, a 2010 ballot initiative approved by voters. Instead of political parties holding primary elections open exclusively to its members, all candidates running for state or federal offices are featured on a single ballot, which allows voters to pick candidates across party lines (cross-over voting) if they desire to do so. Share these findings: Tweet

Internal polling analysis from Democratic consultants, released to IVN, reveals that in 2012, forty-two percent of incumbents faced a same-party challenge in the primary elections. This is a significant increase from the nineteen percent of primaries that were same-party challenges from 2002 to 2010. Tweet stat: Tweet


Furthermore, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of party-endorsed candidates in competitive party-on-party races lost the general election to the more moderate candidate. This means that in a clear majority of these races, moderate Democrats beat their more liberal competitors and middle-of-the-road Republicans beat candidates who lean more to the right. Tweet stat: Tweet

While every incumbent and most party-favorites advanced to the general election, the 2012 election results indicate that incumbents and party-endorsed candidates are not necessarily guaranteed reelection as they might have been just two years prior. The fact that party-favorites are no longer safe bets illustrates a gradual trend that has been occurring for decades; political parties are losing ground in California. Tweet the news: Tweet

Voter registration for the two big mainstream parties has notably decreased over the last three decades while 'Decline-to-State' (DTS) registration has steadily risen. According to the data released to IVN, the decline in Democrats nearly matched the increase in DTS voters from 1978 to 2012.

From 1978-2012

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 2.12.12 PM

From 1978 to 2012, DTS registration increased by fourteen percent while registration for the Democratic Party decreased by thirteen percent. Republican registration declined five percent from thirty-five percent of the electorate to thirty percent. There is no indication of a reversal of these trends in the foreseeable future.

The results of the 2012 elections in California are a good indicator that top-two open primary does result in more competitive races in a state where independent voters now make up twenty-one percent of the electorate. However, there are still plenty of voters who are not familiar with the new electoral system.

Internal data suggests that a vast majority of independent voters are not yet familiar with the new primary system, an indication that an increase in voter awareness could mean that the results of the 2012 elections are the start of a lasting trend.

About the Author