Republicans: Top-Two Primary System Hurts The GOP

In a Patch statewide survey of influential California Republicans, 40 percent feel Democrats will benefit from the system.


A large percentage of California Republican insiders believe the top-two primary system approved by voters in 2010 has hurt their party: That's the most notable finding of Patch's inaugural Red California survey of influential Republicans.

The 40 percent of Republicans who thought the top-two system hurt their party formed a plurality. Twenty-nine percent said the top-two primary system has helped the GOP and 31 percent said it has had no partisan effect.

"Because Democrats dominate politics in California that'll give them an advantage in the elections,” one respondent wrote. “So, I foresee that this will not resound well for the Republicans. Hope I'm wrong."

Another respondent said indecision under the new rules also hurt Republicans: "The Party could not make up its mind on how or whether to endorse candidates before the Primary. The result was weak candidates or no representation in some races."

Voters in 2010 approved Proposition 14, the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, and the primary election in June was the first statewide election conducted under the new rules. Under the new system, the top two overall vote-getters in the primary election will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election, regardless of their political party.

When asked if the top-two primary system would lead to more Republican candidates taking centrist positions between now and the general election, 54 percent of survey respondents said no and 46 percent said candidates would move toward the center.

"If they're smart they would, but who knows?" said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development and longtime California political analyst who surveyed the results for Patch. "Republicans and Democrats both have to reach out beyond their party space. They have to reach out to 'no party preference' voters and third-party voters."

Proposition 14 has its roots in the 2009 budget battle between ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature. The stalemate broke after state Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican from Santa Maria, crossed the aisle and voted in favor of the budget and its tax increases in exchange for putting the top-two primary initiative on the ballot.

Proponents of the top-two system have said that its goal was to move both Republicans and Democrats toward the center to alleviate the polarization that has gridlocked Sacramento, Jeffe said.

"That was one of the major drivers of this initiative to make candidates reach out beyond the conservative party base among Republicans and the liberal party base among Democrats," she said.

It was interesting to note that a majority of Republicans said they didn't believe GOP candidates would move more to the center, Jeffe said.

"It may be true and they will probably learn a lesson from it," she said.

A majority of respondents, 53 percent, said they either disagreed or somewhat disagreed that Democrats would take a super-majority in the state Senate in the 2012 elections. 

Even if Democrats do take two-thirds control of the state Senate, it's unlikely they would get two-thirds control of the state Assembly, which means Republicans could still block any attempt to raise taxes, Jeffe said.

The Red California Survey

Our surveys are not a scientific random sample of any larger population, but rather an effort to listen to a swath of influential local Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials in California. All of these individuals have agreed to participate in surveys, although not all responded to this week's questions. The survey went out June 29 to July 9 and results reported July 10.

Patch will be conducting Red California and Blue California surveys throughout 2012 in hopes of determining the true sentiment of Republicans and Democrats on the ground in California. If you are an activist, party leader or elected official and would like to take part in a weekly surveys that lasts just a few minutes, please email Sandra Oshiro.

Red California Survey roster: Richard Adams (Studio City Neighborhood Council safety chief); Gary Aminoff (San Fernando Valley Republicans president); Michael Antonovich (Los Angeles County supervisor); Steve Baric (California Republican Party vice chair); Tony Beall (Rancho Santa Margarita City Council member); Susan Blau (Studio City political activist); Dion Bracco (Gilroy Council member, mayoral candidate); Sue Caro (County GOP chairwoman); Scott Carpenter (Orange County political blogger); Tamara Colbert (Tea Party member); John Colbert (Former Republican candidate for Congress); Dylan Conroy (Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council representative); Irene DeBlasio (Republican activist); Steve Detrick (Elk Grove City Council member) Ben DiBenedetto (Studio City Neighborhood Council board member); Jane Diehl (Redondo Beach school board member); Chip Dykes (Oceanside City Council candidate); Laura Emdee (Redondo Beach school board member); Heidi Gallegos (Rowland Unified School District Board member); Andrew Gayner Carmichael (Patch blogger); Mike Gin (Redondo Beach mayor); Gil Gonzalez (State Senate candidate); David Hall (Mt. San Antonio College Board trustee); Alex Keledjian (La Canada Flintridge Young Republicans president); Ernest Koeppen (La Canada Flintridge resident); Becky Kolberg (Contra Costa GOP chair); Bob Kowell (Murrieta-Temecula Republican Assembly president); Greg Krikorian (State Assembly candidate); Jim Light (Slow-growth advocate); Patrice Lynes (Activist); Larry Masuoka (San Juan Unified School District Board member); Brad McGirr (Rancho Santa Margarita planning commissioner) Gina McNelley (Capistrano Valley Republican Women Federated member) Bridget Melson (East Bay Tea Party chair); Mark Meuser (State Senate candidate); Nathan Mintz (Former State Assembly candidate); Larry Molton (California GOP member); Roger Niello (Sacramento County Chamber of Commerce president); Gayle Pacheco (Republican Women Federated member); Chris Pareja (Congressional candidate); Al Phillips (State Assembly candidate); Jim Reardon (San Juan Capistrano resident); Al Restivo (Former La Canada Republicans Club president); Matt Rexroad (Yolo County supervisor); Scott Schmidt (Former LA Chapter Log Cabin Republicans president); Howard Schmidt (Chief of staff for Sacramento County supervisor); Nick Shih (Activist); Suzanne St. John (Activist); Mary Su (Walnut mayor); Gino Sund (Altadena Town Council member); Peter Tateishi (State Assembly candidate); Brad Torgan (LA Chapter Log Cabin Republicans president); Steve Vaus (City budget review committee member); Bob Walters (Former San Juan Unified School Board member); John Webb (Businessman).

Steve Bankhead July 20, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Abel Maldonaldo stuck us with the top-two system, which effectively eliminates the chances of any 3rd-party candidate to make it to general elections in November. It will be ironic, and probably fitting, if he loses to his democratic opponent in November without any Peace & Freedom, Green or other 3rd party candidate to draw votes from his opponent. And his democratic opponent drew about 10,000 more votes than Maldonaldo in the primary, so the lack of 3rd party votes could be a major factor.
Bruce July 20, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Hooray for Abel Maldonaldo!! It was unambiguously clear that the prior system was not working. 3rd party candidates rattle cages a bit and occasionally tip elections toward the candidates least like the 3rd party candidate, but are otherwise not a factor. Until we have a few elections under our belt, it will be hard to say if the new scheme is significantly better than before. It is easy to say that it could not be appreciably worse. If, in a few election cycles, we still have intractable partisan politics in Sacramento, then it would be time to try another scheme. Term limits didn't work, and now the party committees have a stronger death grip on their politicians. That is a failed experiment that needs modification.
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz July 21, 2012 at 05:58 AM
I have so had it with Red & Blue, Right & Left, Liberal & Conservative! In my book their Both cut with the same knife! Really have no idea who I'm going to vote for yet come November!!!!
Frank Geefay July 22, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Elections should not be about parties. They should be about electing the best or most popular candidates into office. It should resemble a democracy as closely as possible where the majority vote counts most. That is the flaw in or our current Electoral College system for electing the President. It is antiquated and was designed for those days when ballots were all hand counted. There is already far too much party polarization and indecision in government. We need much more party neutral elections, not more. There is really is no need to have primary elections or Electoral Colleges. Both are antiquated election traditions. We could save hundreds of billions of dollars each year nationally and have a single election to vote for the most popular candidates. This would also save everyone’s time in only voting once instead of twice. Third party candidates have never been elected unless there was large popular support. If they can be among the top two primary candidates they have as much chance of getting elected as the other candidates. Third party candidates have as much chance of being effectively elected now as under the previous system.


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