Saturday, July 04, 2015

"Top Two" primaries: Propaganda vs. truth

It's baaaack.

"It" referring to the "Top Two" primary proposal.

In 2012, Arizona voters soundly defeated a proposal to change Arizona's primary election system so that the two top vote-getters each currently-partisan race would go on to the general election, regardless of partisan affiliation.

As of this writing, there is no record on the AZSOS' website of such a proposal being in the works for the 2016 election, but Jackie Salit, who fronted the scheme in 2012 and is still out pushing it, had an op-ed piece published in the Arizona Republic in late June.

Note: AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona has a response to Salit's piece here.

The stated goal of the scheme was/is to both reduce the effects of partisanship in the electoral process and to increase voter participation because more non-affiliated voters would participate.

The method was approved by voters in California in 2010 to cover elections in 2012 and beyond.

And if the stated goals are used as a measuring stick, it is an abject failure.

While the measure has caused an upheaval in certain district races (basically, two minority party candidates making it to the general election in a district dominated by the other major party because there were so many candidates from the majority party that the vote was diluted), no non-major party candidate (meaning Democratic or Republican) has won a general election race.  In fact, only one non-major party candidate has even exceeded 40% of the vote in a general election race.

It hasn't even impacted voter turnout.

California's general election turnout figures, since 1992 -

Year Turnout %
1992 75.32
1994 60.45
1996 65.53
1998 57.59
2000 70.94
2002 50.57
2004 76.04
2006 56.19
2008 79.42
2010 59.59
2012 72.36
2014 42.20

In chart form (visuals really help when looking at things like this :) ) -

As you can see from the chart, California's voter turnout has been trending downward for the last quarter-century.  While there have been upticks in presidential election years (a marked uptick in 2008), the overall trend has been almost inexorably downward.  2014 saw a record low turnout, but "Top Two" may not be the proximate cause of that - the overall trend was downward before the implementation of "Top Two".

On the other hand, it sure as hell didn't slow the decline.

Well, maybe it had an impact in turnout in primary elections.  The turnout figures for California's primary elections, since 1992 -

Year Turnout %
1992 47.46
1994 35.05
1996 41.88
1998 42.49
2000 53.88
2002 34.59
2004 44.21
2006 33.63
2008 28.22
2010 33.31
2012 31.06
2014 25.17

In chart form -

Let me be clear, I have no problem with and would support true election reforms that result in reduced apathy and increase participation on the part of voters.

However, "top two" isn't one such "reform".

Some people, such as Salit, might argue that partisans exercise an outsized influence on American politics.

Some people, such as me, believe that the group with an outsized influence on American politics is a group that Salit purports to represent, the apathetics.  By not "showing up", by not participating in a major part of civil society, they help to elect bad politicians.

And increasing the influence of that group would not serve to improve America's political culture.

Supporters of the scheme, such as the editorial board of the LA Times, argue that there hasn't been enough time to see if "top two" works, but that if we keep using the method, it will eventually work.

Kind of the same thing said by proponents of never-ending tax cuts for corporations and 1%ers (aka - "tinkle-down economics").

California's election data can be found here.

1 comment:

Phoenix Justice said...

The biggest and best election reform would be campaign finance reform that blocks the 1% from buying our elections.