Friday, August 10, 2012

In California, the parties pretty much got what they wanted

California's new top-two primary supposedly opened up the nomination contests to greater competition. The parties tried to stem some of this competition by offering pre-primary endorsements, sending a message to their loyal supporters about which candidates they preferred to represent their party. How did the parties do? Eric McGhee runs the numbers:
All incumbents who ran this year advanced to the fall campaign, and all but four finished in first place. Likewise, 101 of 113 non-incumbent candidates endorsed by the major parties advanced.
Now, it's probably wrong to say that the party endorsements caused all these candidates to win. In many cases, the party was probably picking people they thought likely to win. Nonetheless, 101 out of 113 is a pretty impressive record for open seats. I don't know if anyone has compiled records of this sort of thing, but I'd guess that this record is on par with party machine success rates in anointing candidates in conventions in the days before direct primaries.


  1. The California major parties are competing with a state monopoly on nominations. Were they really trying to "stem" competition or just expressing themselves as a group?

    In the French version of top-two, citizens have the right to express themselves on the ballot without heavy state controls like the "party preference" legal concept. Could this be a reason why there are more than two parties in their National Assembly?

  2. Krist, as I see it, by issuing endorsements prior to the primary, the major parties in California were trying to communicate with the voters out there who identify with them and tell them who they felt the true Democrat/Republican was. Closed primaries can be confusing enough with multiple candidates, but when you have maybe a dozen candidates from multiple parties in there, it's easy to lose your supporters.

    As for the French system, I believe your understanding is correct. My co-blogger Hans Noel points out to me that Maurice Duverger specifically mentioned France's system when developing his ideas about how electoral system design can lead to multi-partisanship. Duverger claimed that a combination of their top-two elections and proportional representation (which they abandoned in the 50s) led to multiple parties, although still a basic left-right coalitional structure.

    Even though they no longer have PR, the top-two system probably still enables some third parties. I suppose it's possible that the same thing may eventually happen in California, but given that California operates within a national context that is very much a two-party system, I don't expect much to change in that regard.

  3. CD 31, though, tells me that the parties got pretty much got what they wanted, but that it wasn't necessarily because of their efforts. If CA Dems had thought about it, once Miller went for CD 31 they should have realized that he was an automatic top-two placer, and that they needed to thin the field and do some GOTV to get the 2nd ticket out of there.

    Parties can get what they want without actually doing anything.

  4. Yeah, the CD31 episode was a significant screwup for the Dems. To me, that says that they can still get what they want, but it often takes some effort, and this was a situation where they lost a House seat by failing to coordinate on someone early on.

  5. I don't know if anyone has compiled records of this sort of thing.