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California's 'top two' primary: Bad idea?
A new, nonpartisan primary system could help Californians elect more moderate candidates — but critics don't believe the hype
 
California governor Arnold Schwarzenager says he supports a "jungle election."
California governor Arnold Schwarzenager says he supports a "jungle election."
Corbis

Californians voted overwhelmingly this week to adopt a new primary system, which state officials say will lead to the election of more moderate politicians. Known as a "top two" or "jungle" primary, the system works by having all candidates participate in a single, open primary election. The top two finishers, regardless of party affiliation, then go head-to-head in the general election. (This means two Democrats or two Republicans could potentially compete against each other.) Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has championed open primaries as a way to reduce partisanship, but some commentators say the change is simply a gimmick that will have little meaningful effect. Will the new system really make a difference? (Watch a local report about California's new primary election rules.)

Voters now have the power: A jungle primary "drastically minimize[s] the influence of California's political parties in the election process," says Dan Schnur in The New York Times. "Eliminating the requirement that candidates list their party registration" will force the two major parties to "reach out to the 20 percent of the state’s electorate that is now officially registered as independent." This is a huge victory for the political center.
"Will California's 'top two' primary work?"

This creates less choice, not more: There's a reason this system is "universally disliked by all political parties" in California, says Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. It's a bad idea. In addition to potentially creating "'invisible primaries' — i.e. deal-making behind the scenes to clear the way for establishment candidates" — this system could "obliterate" the state's thriving minority parties by forcing them to compete in expensive statewide campaigns just to get on the general-election ballot. How is that an improvement?
"Assessing the effects of California's Proposition 14"

"Moderate" doesn't mean "better": By my calculations, says Nate Silver in FiveThirtyEight, the system will make it easier for politicians in the center to get elected, as its proponents say. But having more "moderate" candidates isn't necessarily a good thing. Rather than the standard-bearers of the Left and Right, California may soon elect a plethora of "weird candidates," like Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. And "nobody wants to live in the land of a thousand Liebermans."
"Land of a thousand Liebermans"

 

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