Philly voters demand open primaries
In May of 2015, in response to a surge of articles and editorials opining dissatisfaction with the closed primary system, the Open Primaries phone outreach team began calling voters in Philadelphia in an effort to measure this dissatisfaction, and provide outreach about reform options. Our call list consisted of 20,000 unaffiliated or Independent voters living in the Metro Philly area, who voted in at least 1 of the last three elections.
Conclusions and Takeaways
The voters we spoke to in Philadelphia were not the apathetic unengaged independents that the media would lead you to believe they are. By and large, these voters knew about the closed partisan system, and have been fed up with it for years.
Most notable about this phone operation was the impact on the voter from the beginning to the end of the survey. This transformation is evidenced in the responses to questions at different points of the survey. For example, 71% of those who indicated they hadn’t spent much time thinking about the primary system ended up indicating support for either Open or Top Two primaries after voter education was provided. Moreover, 76% of those who initially thought the closed primary system worked fine, changed their minds after we explained the alternatives.
This tells us that at our phone outreach has the ability to engage voters and bring them into the national movement for nonpartisan primary reform. Our survey has the ability to open minds to alternatives to the partisan status quo.
Overview of the Phone Bank Operation
When compared to past Open Primaries’ phone operations, total polls and sign-up rates skyrocketed. Efforts ran from May 14- June 18, and we conducted 75 shifts during that time. Below is a breakdown of the results:
In Philadelphia we made over twice as many phone calls, reached almost 400 more people, and did about 100 more polls over a shorter period of time. Of those polled, 44% signed-up to receive email updates, and other 15% joined the movement as volunteers. This dramatic increase in positive responses illustrates Philadelphian’s discontent with the current partisan system. By inviting them to join our movement, Open Primaries gives them an outlet to express their frustration with the current political environment.
In the beginning of the poll, we asked a set of general questions about primaries to gage the voter’s understanding of the current system, then provided voter education on alternatives to partisan primaries, and asked how they felt about the reform options. We spoke to many locals who were angry about being locked out of the first round of voting. As you can see by Figures 3 and 4, most people we spoke to were aware of the closed system and more than two-thirds found the closed primary flawed.
In the subsequent portion of the poll, we explained how an open or nonpartisan system would work, and ask which system they would prefer. Figure 5 shows more than half the respondents support Nonpartisan Top Two Primaries. Anecdotally, we learned that many voters didn’t know there were other ways to conduct elections. These voters were motivated by the alternative of Nonpartisan Top Two Primaries to shake things up and join our reform movement.
Overall, Open Primaries was met with overwhelming support in Philadelphia. A notable 88% supported either Open or Nonpartisan Top Two Primaries (Figure 5). Furthermore, an impressive 90% believe a campaign to reform the closed primary system would be worthwhile (Figure 6). The closed partisan primary serves to maintain party power and perpetuate the stagnation seen in legislative bodies nationwide. Inviting the over one million unaffiliated voters statewide into the primary would create an opportunity for new ideas and conversations, which has the possibility to usurp the partisan gridlock that has stymied progress.