Analysis: Scholars With Libertarians, Say ‘Top 2’=Extremism

Like prinaries forced on small parties that are pushed by government moles and  extremist groups Top 2 looks good but interferes with party autonomy and so results in crushing third parties, clogging centrist process and so polarizing discussion. Long denounced by Libertarians scholars now are agreeing–but article quickly attracts troll pro-government commenters defending Top 2. Note for us extremism includes extremist pseudo-centrist ‘populism’ that combines worst of right and left wing.


Political Science Evidence Overwhelmingly Says Top-Two Systems do not Elect More Centrists

May 12th, 2012

Political scientists who have studied primary systems invariably find that top-two election systems do not elect more centrist candidates. Here is a summary of that evidence:

1. Professor Todd Donovan of Western Washington University concluded, “The partisan structure of Washington’s legislature appears unaltered by the new primary system” and “The aggregate of all of this (implementation of the top-two system starting in 2008) did not add up to a legislature that looked different or functioned differently from the legislature elected under a partisan primary.” These statements are from his article, “The Top Two Primary: What Can California Learn from Washington?” published in the California Journal of Politics & Policy, February 2012 (vol. 4, issue 1).

2. Professors Boris Shor and Seth Masket studied Nebraska’s non-partisan legislature in 2011 and concluded “Despite a history of nonpartisanship dating back to the 1930s, the Nebraska state legislature appears to be polarizing. How does polarization happen without parties? Using interviews, roll call votes, and campaign finance records, we examine politics in the modern Nebraska unicam. We find that term limits, which began removing incumbents from office in 2006, created opportunities for the state’s political parties to recruit and finance candidates, and they have done so in an increasingly partisan fashion…The results offer a compelling example of parties overcoming an institutional rule designed to eliminate them.” This is from the Abstract to their article “Polarization Without Parties: The Rise of Legislative Partisanship in Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature” which can be read on-line at this link.

3. Professor Shor also intensively studied polarization and partisanship in all 50 states legislatures, using hundreds of thousands of bits of data, mostly roll call votes and legislative questionaires. He determined which states were most polarized. See his conclusions here. Professor Masket then looked at the Shor data and concluded there is no relationship between type of primary system and degree of partisanship and polarization. See Masket’s article here.

4. Professor Eric McGhee studied partisanship in California’s legislature during the blanket primary years, and concluded “Electoral Reforms won’t fix California gridlock.” That article was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 14, 2010. Read it here.

5. Professor L. Sandy Maisel wrote a letter on August 10, 2010, to Ralph Nader, in which he said, “I am against top-two systems for three main reasons. First, I think the argument of proponents – that it will lead to the election of more moderates – does not hold water. It has not been the case in Washington, nor in Louisiana, where the system is similar…Generally, if there is a crowded primary, extremist and/or single-issue candidates will emerge at the top.” Maisel has written many books on U.S. political parties and is considered one of the leading experts on the U.S. party system.

6. Finally, Richard Winger’s examination of Washington state legislative elections under the top-two system in 2008 and 2010, in elections with two members of the same major party running against each other in November, rebuts the idea that top-two elections between two members of the same party elect the more moderate candidate. There were no statewide or congressional elections in Washington state in either 2008 or 2010 between two members of the same major party. For legislative races, there were 8 such races in 2008 and 10 in 2010. In some of them, the incumbent was re-elected, which obviously changed nothing. In the races without an incumbent, top-two proponents believe that the more moderate candidate will win. But this did not happen. In 2010, two Republicans ran against each other, in races with no incumbent, in two districts. In the 2nd district (seat 2), J. T. Wilcox defeated Tom Campbell. Campbell was the centrist, refusing to join his own party’s caucus, and enjoying the support of labor unions; he lost to Wilcox, who was an orthodox Republican. In the 31st district (seat 1), Cathy Dahlquist defeated Shawn Bunney. Dahlquist campaigned by using the label “conservative” prominently in her advertising and listing other “conservatives” who had endorsed her. Bunney campaigned by stressing that he was endorsed not only by the state’s Republican Attorney General, but by the State’s Auditor, who was a Democrat.

In the only 2008 race with one Republican running against another, and no incumbent, Shelly Short defeated Sue Madsen in the 7th district (seat 1). When I asked Madsen which of the two of them was more conservative, she said, “It’s a dead heat.”

Races between two Democrats in November were more difficult to characterize. In 2010 in the 34th district (seat 2), Joe Fitzgibbon, age 23, who was backed by labor, defeated Mike Heavey, son of a former Democratic state legislator. In 2008, in the 46th district, seat one, Scott White, who was endorsed by labor, defeated Gerry Pollet. But also in 2008, in the 36th district (seat 1), Reuven Carlyle, who had some labor endorsements, defeated John Burbank, who had more labor endorsements. In 2010, in the 27th district (seat 1), Washington state’s leading gay activist, Laurie Jinkins, defeated Jake Fey, who was backed by labor unions. Jinkins had been instrumental in defending the state’s civil unions law in 2009 against a referendum, and in 2010 she became the first open lesbian elected to the Washington legislature.

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