New Study Finds California’s Top Two Open Primary Having a Significant Impact - Open Primaries
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New Study Finds California’s Top Two Open Primary Having a Significant Impact

Posted on April 04, 2019 at 9:52 AM


Jeremy Gruber, SVP

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 New Study Finds California’s Top Two Open Primary Having a Significant Impact

Los Angeles – February 26, 2019 – The USC Schwarzenegger Institute has just released a ground breaking series of white papers by Charles Munger Jr. that take a comprehensive, data-driven look at the effects of California’s adoption of top two open primaries on its politics. California voters adopted top two open primary elections by referendum in 2010.

Munger demonstrates that California’s top two open primary is delivering productive reforms on a wide range of electoral and political fronts including creating greater competition, greater public interest, increased access for independent voters (25.5%[1] of registered voters), and greater accountability between voters and their elected representatives. It further dispels many of the myths and misconceptions put forward by both Democratic and Republican leadership who have been openly hostile to nonpartisan elections.

Key Findings:

  • The top-two primary system creates an opportunity for more voters to participate and vote for any candidate, including no-party preference voters.
  • Under top two, races between Democrats and Republicans are 14% higher than the national average,
  • Same party general elections are highly competitive, with second place finishers (who would have been eliminated in closed primary system) winning the general election 34% of the time.
  • Voter drop-off is low in same party races. 88% of voters who did not share the party of candidates voted in same party legislative races while 95% voted in different-party general elections.
  • Minor or third parties in California have done as well before and after the implementation of the top-two primary. Minor parties are not harmed by the top-two primary system.
  • Top two open primaries do not favor one party over the other. In 458 of 459 legislative elections held from 2012 to 2016, the general election winner reflected the partisanship of the constituency. The decline of the California GOP began 4 years before top two was implemented and is driven by factors outside of top two.

"One argument opponents of California's open primary have put forth is that the top two system is flawed because it does not guarantee that a Democrat and a Republican face off in November. This research exposes that it is the partisan system that fails by that measure. Nationally, Democrats and Republican legislative candidates face off in general elections 61% of the time. 39% of races feature just one candidate on the ballot. In California, a Democrat and a Republican face off 75% of the time, 14% higher than the national average. And the other 25% of races are highly competitive D on D, R on R, or independent v. D or R races. In California, races are fiercely competitive. In states using the outdated partisan primary system, almost 4 in 10 legislators face no opposition on the November ballot. That's a disgrace and it exposes why Democratic and Republican insiders are so keen to discredit the top two system. They don't favor increased competition."

John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries Education Fund.


All three of the USC Schwarzenegger Center’s white papers can be found at:


About Open Primaries Education Fund

 Open Primaries Education Fund is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to primary election reform. More about the organization can be found at


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