Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Has the Top Two Primary Elected More Moderates?

  • Eric McGhee and Boris Shor
Abstract

Party polarization is perhaps the most significant political trend of the past several decades of American politics. Many observers have pinned hopes on institutional reforms to reinvigorate the political center. The Top Two primary is one of the most interesting and closely-watched of these reforms: a radically open primary system that removes much of the formal role for parties in the primary election and even allows for two candidates of the same party to face each other in the fall. Here we leverage the adoption of the Top Two in California and Washington to explore the reform’s effects on legislator behavior. We find an inconsistent effect since the reform was adopted in these two states. The evidence for post-reform moderation is stronger in California than in Washington, but some of this stronger effect appears to stem from a contemporaneous policy change—district lines drawn by an independent redistricting commission—while still more might have emerged from a change in term limits that was also adopted at the same time. The results validate some claims made by reformers, but question others, and their magnitude casts some doubt on the potential for institutions to reverse the polarization trend.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Has the Top Two Primary Elected More Moderates?
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Has the Top Two Primary Elected More Moderates?
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Has the Top Two Primary Elected More Moderates?
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
References
Hide All
Ahler, Douglas J., Citrin, Jack, and Lenz, Gariel S.. 2016. “Do Open Primaries Improve Representation? An Experimental Test of California’s 2012 Top-Two Primary.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 41(2): 237–68.
Aldrich, John H. 1983. “A Downsian Spatial Model with Party Activism.” American Political Science Review 77(4): 974–90.
Alvarez, R. Michael and Nagler, Jonathan. 2002. “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Sincere and Strategic Crossover Voting in California Assembly Races.” In Voting at the Political Fault Line: California’s Experiment with the Blanket Primary, ed. Cain, B. E. and Gerber, E. R.. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Alvarez, Michael R. and Sinclair, Betsy. 2012. “Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: The Effects of Primary Processes.” Political Research Quarterly 65(3): 544–57.
Angrist, Joshua D. and Pischke, Jorn-Steffen. 2009. Mostly Harmless Econometrics. New York: Princeton University Press.
Aranson, Peter H. and Ordeshook, Peter C.. 1972. “Spatial Strategies for Sequential Elections.” In Probability Models of Collective Decision Making, ed. Niemi, R. G. and Weisberg, H. F.. Columbus: Merrill.
Ashenfelter, Orley and Card, David. 1985. “Using the Longitudinal Structure of Earnings to Estimate the Effect of Training Programs.” Review of Economics and Statistics 67(4): 648–80.
Bafumi, Joseph and Herron, Michael C.. 2010. “Leapfrog Representation and Extremism: A Study of American Voters and Their Members in Congress.” American Political Science Review 104(3): 519–42.
Barber, Michael J. and McCarty, Nolan. 2015. “Causes and Consequences of Polarization.” In Solutions to Political Polarization in America, ed. Persily, N.. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Brady, David W., Han, Hahrie, and Pope, Jeremy C.. 2007. “Primary Elections and Candidate Ideology: Out of Step with the Primary Electorate?” Legislative Studies Quarterly 32(1): 79106.
Bullock, Will and Clinton, Joshua D.. 2011. “More a Molehill than a Mountain: The Effects of the Blanket Primary on Elected Officials’ Behavior from California.” Journal of Politics 73(3): 915–30.
Cadigan, John and Janeba, Eckhard. 2002. “A Citizen-Candidate Model with Sequential Elections.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 14(4): 387407.
Chen, Kong-Pin and Yang, Sheng-Zhang. 2002. “Strategic Voting in Open Primaries.” Public Choice 112(1/2): 130.
Cohn, Gary. 2014. “In Plain Sight: The Rise of Corporate Democrats in California.” Huffington Post, April 15.
Cooper, Alexandra and Munger, Michael C.. 2000. “The (Un)Predictability of Primaries with Many Candidates: Simulation Evidence.” Public Choice 103(3/4): 337–55.
Cox, Gary. 1987. “Electoral Equilibrium under Alternative Voting Institutions.” American Journal of Political Science 31(1): 82108.
Diamond, Alexis and Sekhon, Jasjeet S.. 2013. “Genetic Matching for Estimating Causal Effects: A General Multivariate Matching Method for Achieving Balance in Observational Studies.” Review of Economics and Statistics 95(3): 932–45.
Donovan, Todd. 2012. “The Top Two Primary: What Can California Learn from Washington?” California Journal of Politics and Policy 4(1).
Gerber, Elizabeth R. 2002. “Strategic Voting and Candidate Policy Positions.” In Voting at the Political Fault Line: California’s Experiment with the Blanket Primary, ed. Cain, B. E. and Gerber, E. R.. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gerber, Elizabeth R. and Morton, Rebecca B.. 1998. “Primary Election Systems and Representation.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 14(2): 304–24.
Grose, Christian R. 2014. “The Adoption of Electoral Reforms and Ideological Change in the California State Legislature.” Los Angeles: USC Schwarzenegger Institute.
Grose, Christian R. 2015. “Can Primary Electoral Institutions Reduce Polarization? A Field Experiment of Legislative Campaigns.” Presented at American Political Science Association annual meeting, San Francisco, September 3–6.
Groseclose, Tim, Levitt, Steven D., and Snyder, James M. Jr. 1999. “Comparing Interest Group Scores across Time and Chambers: Adjusted ADA Scores for the U.S. Congress.” American Political Science Review 93(1): 3350.
Hall, Andrew B. 2015. “What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?” American Political Science Review 109(1): 1842.
Hill, Seth J. and Tausanovitch, Chris. 2015. “A Disconnect in Representation? Comparison of Trends in Congressional and Public Polarization.” Journal of Politics 77(4): 1058–75.
Hirano, Shigeo, Snyder, James M. Jr, Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Hansen, John Mark. 2010. “Primary Competition and Partisan Polarization in the U.S. Senate.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 5:169–91.
Kanthak, Kristin and Morton, Rebecca. 2001. “The Effects of Electoral Rules on Congressional Primaries.” In Congressional Primaries and the Politics of Representation, ed. Galderisi, P. F., Ezra, M. and Lyons, M.. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Kousser, Thad, Phillips, Justin H., and Shor, Boris. 2016. “Reform and Representation: Assessing California’s Top-Two Primary and Redistricting Commission.” Political Science Research and Methods, November 4, 2016, 1–19. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/psrm.2016.43.
Mann, Thomas E. and Ornstein, Norman J.. 2016. It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. New York: Basic Books.
Masket, Seth E. 2007. “It Takes an Outsider: Extralegislative Organization and Partisanship in the California Assembly, 1849–2006.” American Journal of Political Science 51(3): 482–97.
McCarty, Nolan M., Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2009. “Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?” American Journal of Political Science 53(3): 666–80.
McCarty, Nolan M., Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2013. Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
McGhee, Eric. 2010. “Open Primaries.” San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California.
McGhee, Eric, Masket, Seth, Shor, Boris, Rogers, Steven, and McCarty, Nolan. 2014. “A Primary Cause of Partisanship? Nomination Systems and Legislator Ideology.” American Journal of Political Science 58(2): 337–51.
Oak, Mandar P. 2006. “On the Role of Primary System in Candidate Selection.” Economics and Politics 18(2): 169–90.
Owen, Guillermo and Grofman, Bernard. 2006. “Two-Stage Electoral Competition in Two-Party Contests: Persistent Divergence of Party Positions.” Social Choice and Welfare 26(3): 547–69.
Pearson, Kathryn and Lawless, Jennifer L.. 2008. “Primary Competition and Polarization in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Hotel Intercontinental, New Orleans, LA, January 9.
Poole, Keith T. 2007. “Changing Minds? Not in Congress!” Public Choice 131: 435–51.
Poole, Keith T. and Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll-Call Voting. New York: Oxford University Press.
Poole, Keith T. and Rosenthal, Howard. 2011. Ideology and Congress. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Salvanto, Anthony M. and Wattenberg, Martin P.. 2002. “Peeking Under the Blanket: A Direct Look at Crossover Voting in the 1998 Primary.” In Voting at the Political Fault Line: California’s Experiment with the Blanket Primary ed. Cain, B. E. and Gerber, E. R.. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sekhon, Jasjeet S. 2011. “Multivariate and Propensity Score Matching Software with Automated Balance Optimization: The Matching Package for R.” Journal of Statistical Software 42(7): 152.
Shor, Boris and McCarty, Nolan M.. 2011. “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures.” American Political Science Review 105(3): 530–51.
Sinclair, Andrew. 2015. “Winning from the Center: Frank Bigelow and California’s Nonpartisan Primary.” California Journal of Politics and Policy 7(1).
Vocke, William C. 2010. “Open Primaries: William Vocke Interviews Abel Maldonado, Lieutenant Governor of California.” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Available at https://breaker.audio/e/17592062.
Walters, Dan. 2014. “Opinion: California’s Top Two Primary Has Had Major Impact.” Sacramento Bee, December 28.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×
Type Description Title
WORD
Supplementary materials

McGhee and Shor supplementary material
Tables A1 and A2

 Word (25 KB)
25 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed