Top Two Primary: Earthquake or tremor?

150 150 Stacy Danielson

The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act was in full effect throughout the state of California for the first time ever on Tuesday.  

Speaking for myself, it felt very empowering, but at the same time a little overwhelming, seeing all of the candidates there before me.  A sample of my thought process in the booth on Tuesday: “You mean I actually get to vote across the aisle?  Look at all these candidates of different parties harmonizing on the same page!  But wait, there are so many options…I’ve never even heard of some of these people…yikes, I really should have done more research!”  

Most of the nearly three million Californians who voted the Act into existence in 2010 did so with the hope that the new system would bring more moderate politicians into office in California, thus reducing the hyper-partisanship that fuels political gridlock and an inability for California’s legislature to keep up with the rapidly changing times. This was precisely the proponents’ cornerstone argument in favor of the measure.  

So now that June 5 has come and gone the people are dying to know, did it work?

Well, while Sacramento Bee’s Torey Van Oot reports that the new system shook up the field, Los Angeles Times’ Michael J. Mishak and Anthony York counter that “Tuesday’s election made it clear that the promised political earthquake will have to wait.”  While the expert opinions are mixed there are some glimmers of hope for change in the political landscape.  

Ballots continue to be counted across California, but so far it looks like we may see as many as 29 (of the state’s 173) congressional and legislative districts with two same-party candidates facing off in November’s general election—kind of cool, right?  

The coolest part is yet that in order for two candidates from the same political party to compete for the same seat they will inevitably have to work to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than ever before.  

While the jury is still out on how much or how little the political landscape “shook” following Tuesday’s top-two primary, the real seismic activity will be seen in the districts of these top two same-party candidates on and leading up to the general election on November 6.   

As the top two candidates mount their campaigns for political office against their opponents from the same party, this is where things get interesting. Top-two supporters are expecting tremors soon in the form of political ads targeting the moderate electorate, with some even the crossing the aisle on select issues.

Come November 6, we’ll see if the desired movement toward the middle is The Big One we’ve been waiting for to shake up California politics, or just the mild aftershock of a well-intentioned reform.


Stacy Danielson

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