California Created Single-Party General Elections And Now They're More Competitive Than Ever.

Talking "Top Two" primaries with's Jason Olson


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"Those old elections, where you had a Republican who's always going to win because a Republican district versus a sacrificial lamb Democrat, you might feel a little better for five seconds as you check the box for 'sacrificial lamb Democrat. But you didn't really have any power," says Jason Olson, director of and co-author of the a new study on California's "Top Two" primary system

Top Two went into effect in 2012 after voters passed a ballot initiative approving the changes to the state's primary system. Now, primaries are "open," meaning that anyone can vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation, and the top two vote-getters compete in the general election. As a result, California voters have often found themselves facing a choice between two Democrats or two Republicans in the general election.

Olson argues that this outcome has actually forced more competitiveness into the system, as candidates now must work harder to appeal to voters outside their core constituency in the general election. His study found that in terms of both margin of victory and incumbency turnover, California went from one of the least competitive to one of the most since the enactment of Top Two.

Olson talked with Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller about the pros and cons of Top Two, its potential effects on third-party voters, independents and libertarians, and gave examples of how the system has shaken up otherwise predictable races across California.

Approximately 10 minutes. Shot by Paul Detrick. Produced by Zach Weissmueller.

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