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Maldonado's Jungle Primary

by: Robert Cruickshank

Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:21:31 AM PST

The traditional media is fixated on framing the Maldonado Primary as an "open primary" - but that is misleading. Truly "open" primaries, where anyone can vote in a party primary, have been banned since California Democratic Party v. Jones and its offspring. Parties themselves can throw their primaries open to some or all voters not registered with them - as Dems have done with DTS voters in their primaries - but that is up to the parties themselves and cannot be mandated by the state.

CDP v Jones nuked ALL open "blanket" primary laws in the country, including that of Washington State, which had been in place since 1935. After several efforts to maintain the system, which all failed to meet the SCOTUS's muster, Washington in 2006 adopted the Louisiana "top two" primary - the first full use was last summer - and it is that system which Maldonado has now forced onto the June 2010 ballot.

So what is this "jungle primary" and how might it affect us? Nate Silver at Fivethirtyeight.com takes a look today and suggests the outcome will be to turn California into the "Land of a Thousand Liebermans". Silver argues that under the current primary system, the conservativeization of the GOP has produced a "death spiral" from which they are not likely to recover.

Silver then argues that the "jungle primary" would produce a very different outcome and his analysis is worth quoting at some length:

But now suppose instead that the state holds a jungle primary...The distribution of winners using that process looks more like this:

This is not quite a bell curve -- it's more like a bell curve with a buzzcut -- but the salient feature is that it's now all about the candidates in the middle of the political spectrum, the very candidates who were having trouble winning their partisan primaries before. If every state had a jungle primary, we'd have a Senate full of Susan Collinses -- and Joe Liebermans. (Or think of all the weird candidates that tend to come out of Louisiana -- very conservative Democrats like Mary Landrieu and very moderate Republicans like Joseph Cao).

This jungle primary also turns out not to be quite as favorable of an outcome to the majority party; a Democratic candidate won about 70 percent of the simulations using the jungle primary versus 75 percent under the traditional system. Moreover, the Democrats who did win tended on average to be more conservative (although the Republican winners were likewise more moderate). It's not a surprise, then, that the legislator who was pushing this proposal in California was Abel Maldonado, a Republican.

And there you see why both Maldonado and Arnold Schwarzenegger want the jungle primary - it might well push the Democrats and therefore California as a whole to the right, which has been the persistent goal of so-called "centrists" all along.

The jungle primary also does NOT benefit the voter. Voter turnout dropped in WA in their August 2008 primary as opposed to the August 2004 primary. Voters felt confused by the system and also felt - correctly in some cases - that it was meaningless in LDs where one party or the other were dominant.

N in Seattle explained some of the other negative impacts of the jungle primary on Washington State:

The principal outcomes were:

   * Large expenditures on the general election, money that might otherwise have gone to statewide and/or national races
   * Bitter divisions within the LD's Democratic organization, which will have longterm deleterious effects on the party

To go into more detail, the "large expenditures on the general election" refers to the effect in many Legislative Districts of the top two candidates being from the same party. The result was that the primary battles were pushed into the general election at great financial and organizational cost. Had it not been for the Obama effect, which helped focus energies, the jungle primary might have been even more destructive for progressive and Democratic politics in Washington.

And that's the system that Maldonado wants to bring to California - a system that will set Democrats at war with themselves, that might empower "centrists" in the mold of Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu, and cost us a ton of money in the process. You'd almost think it was intended that way...

...David Dayen makes some good criticisms of Silver's methods, and I agree that Silver should look at actual data. Washington State is a goldmine for this, as its politics are very similar to California's.

Robert Cruickshank :: Maldonado's Jungle Primary
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what a junk post (0.00 / 0)
Suppose that the hair in a state are arranged from 1 to 100, with 1 representing Jerry Brown's bald head and 100 Gavin Newsom's gel pit. The distribution of hair, we will assume, is combed evenly throughout this spectrum. We will also assume that the state is somewhat asymmetrical in its hair parting -- as California combs from the left.

If we simulate this process ten million times, Jon Tester has to move to California as he will be the next Governor. But Maldonado's plan will make it so that Tester loses to Michael Bolton in 2014.

Twitter: @BobBrigham

Somehow Don King Comes to Mind in This Metaphor (0.00 / 0)
As does Don Rickles and any number of people with mullets or elaborate comb-overs.

Please Bob, Block That Metaphor

OC Progressive is Gus Ayer, former Fountain Valley Council member.  

[ Parent ]
I have a chart, it has to be true (0.00 / 0)
Say hello to your next member of the state board of equalization.

Twitter: @BobBrigham

[ Parent ]
Silver is at his best (0.00 / 0)
When he sticks to actual evidence, and at his worst when he blindly speculates or red-baits people like Sirota.

Still, it's good that someone started the analytic conversation. I hope Silver follows up on David Dayen's suggestion and runs this based on actual numbers from CA and WA.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
what? (0.00 / 0)
Are you trying to tell my that the electorate is lined up evenly on a line between left and right while searching for which candidate most closely matches their views on the issues?

Twitter: @BobBrigham

[ Parent ]
All I know is (0.00 / 0)
The GOP is in a death spiral - they're a Zombie Death Cult here in California - and I have no desire to throw them anything but an anvil.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Well, Silver is using a straight-up application of median voter theory (0.00 / 0)
which is why it would be very interesting to look at actual outcomes in LA and WA - it might tell us whether there's a problem with assumptions around the median voter.

(but more work unless you already have a database scoring a large group of state legislators on some ideology scale).

And even more interesting is the question about the distribution of voters in CA - how many "moderates" do we have, and do they even fall nicely on a left/right continuum?

[ Parent ]
Open Primary. (0.00 / 0)
You might want to take another look at what has happened in Washington with this system.   It used to be a state of Conservative Dems and Republicans.  Now it is a Democratic state.  The fact is that no Republican and very few moderates can win in ethnic districts, but Democrats with an open primary now have a chance to get their voices heard in heavily Republican areas like Orange County.   More to the point, all people should have an equal say in how they are governed.  Party labels are necessary, but their impact has to be minimized so that we don't wind up as a country of warring factions.   This is a good move forward with reform.

Step 1: put down your crack pipe (0.00 / 0)
Step 2: open a window

Twitter: @BobBrigham

[ Parent ]
Just not true (0.00 / 0)
Washington has never been a "state of Conservative Dems and Republicans" - it is one of the most Democratic states in the Union with a stronger progressive wing than virtually any other place and that dates all the way back to statehood in 1890.

Further, it has a natural Democratic majority. Conservative Republicans have never held power for extended periods of time. They best they can achieve is momentary power when the public is angry at the Dem incumbents and they lose it as soon as the Dems fix what went wrong.

For example: Dems got massacred in 1994, partly because of national trends, partly because the Dems and labor fell out and labor sat on its hands. But from 1996 onward Dems retook everything that had been lost and in 2006 won

The open primary wasn't really part of that. It has done nothing to produce moderate legislators in either party. And the top two has only been in place for ONE primary. Washington, like California, has an intensely regional politics. If you live in Seattle you vote Dem, if you live in Wenatchee you don't, and there's some ability to move Auburn, Vancouver and Spokane into the blue column.

Ultimately your argument is with American politics and American history. The authors of the Constitution were the founders of the first political parties and it happened not 4 years after ratification.

Further, today, we are a nation of warring factions and there's no way to just wish it away because some people don't like it. The collapse of economic prosperity means the center is no longer logically possible.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Hooray for Hamilton (0.00 / 0)
and Jumpin' For Jefferson.

Yeah, parties go all the way back.

[ Parent ]
Forgot to finish the thought (0.00 / 0)
Final sentence from 3rd paragraph:

But from 1996 onward Dems retook everything that had been lost and in 2006 won supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. The last time a Republican was elected governor was in 1980 and he was a moderate one-termer.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Demographics and population density (0.00 / 0)
Are often the best determinants of political alignment.

Coastal Washington state isn't Spokane and the same can be said of eastern Oregon vs. Portland.

Ultimately your argument is with American politics and American history. The authors of the Constitution were the founders of the first political parties and it happened not 4 years after ratification.

This is true but ironically, to a man, the Founders and Framers had hoped to design a system without political parties. They did not want the factionalism they saw ripping Europe apart spreading here. That didn't work out, and again, it was structural. The law of unintended consequences from our Single Member District Plurality, first past the post, winner take all voting system. A French sociologist named Duverger observed all this in the 1950's and it is now so axiomatic as to be called Duverger's law.


Another resource is this book by Poli Sci Prof. Steven Hill



[ Parent ]
Washington Politics. (0.00 / 0)
Going back to the days when Pro War Democrats Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson represented Washington in the Senate, the state has been divided between moderate democrats and conservative Republicans.  Just look at the totals in the Presidential elections.  However that changed in 1988 when they stopped having voters register by party (A reform that would be disasterous in California, but was okay there) which allowed voters to pick and choose who to vote for.  It wasn't an exact match, but it was very close and lately the liberals have the upper hand.  

The bottom line is that most nonpartisan experts thing Republicans have a big edge heading into next years elections, especially if they get either Whitman or Poizner to drop out of the Governors race to clear the field.  They have unlimited money and don't have many primary fights while Democrats being the majority party will have battles everywhere.   But obviously most people posting hear disagree with prevailing wisdom and it's been wrong before.  (Just ask Hillary Clinton).

However if you stick to the basics, I still think you will see that Republicans have no way to crack Democratic turf in ethnic areas while Democrats can help elect moderate Republicans in their turf and at least keep the pressure on them.  As for the comment about warring factions, if you ever  go down to a County Registrars office and look at the ballots cast, you will find that very few voters actually cast votes for a straight party ticket, even in the safest seats.  They always pick a couple of offices as a silent protest where they vote the other way.  I think this shows instinctively that voters don't trust the concept of factions and still believe they vote for individuals (would anyone on this board vote for Rod Blagojevich or Bill Jefferson because they were Democrats?) and that is why you always see swings back and forth between the two parties.  We are on the upswing, but the more districts in play, the more our strenggth at the grass roots and in the labor movement comes into play.  JMO!

[ Parent ]
Noooooo ! We Need a Battle of the Billionaires (0.00 / 0)
Don't even suggest that Poizner or Mrs Griffith Rutherford Harsh IV drops out. I want to see a billionaire cage match where two go in, one comes out.  

OC Progressive is Gus Ayer, former Fountain Valley Council member.  

[ Parent ]
Do you really want to see Meg mud wresling? (0.00 / 0)
It would burn out your eyes.

[ Parent ]
They're both MBA's (0.00 / 0)
They'll duel with Powerpoint decks, nothing as crass a mud-wrestlng.  

OC Progressive is Gus Ayer, former Fountain Valley Council member.  

[ Parent ]
Still off base (0.00 / 0)
Henry Jackson was pro-war and the original neo-con when it came to foreign policy, but his domestic and economic policies were quite liberal. And Warren Magnuson was even more liberal than Jackson.

Republicans don't have any edge going into 2010 given the public's rejection of them, a statewide and nationwide phenomenon. Sure, it's possible that either Whitman or Poizner could use their money to make it a close race, but I don't see them having a "big edge."

And if you know of any "moderate Republicans" I'd love to hear of it. There's not much evidence they actually exist here in California.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
"Scoop" Jackson was... (0.00 / 0)
... what some call a "liberal hawk" even though that would likely ruffle his feathers. He was also known as the Senator from Boeing, but to call him the original neo-con is unfair to his real beliefs and philosophy, and oversimplifies neoconservative philosophy. To put it bluntly, Scoop wouldn't have cared much for Leo Strauss. It is true that a few names we might recognize today were influenced by him. One, by the name of Perle, even worked as his assistant in his youth.

I'm not a hawk or a dove. I just don't want my country to be a pigeon.

In matters of national security, the best politics is no politics.

Henry "Scoop" Jackson

[ Parent ]
asdf (0.00 / 0)
The idea that jungle primaries = moderate candidates is a myth.

-Vitter, David
-Edwards, Edwin

I know Louisana is somewhat unique politically, but the point still stands.

Louisiana=Apples (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Open Primaries = Nuts (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
I've alway opposed open primaries... (0.00 / 0)
...because my spider sense tells me that OPs throw the advantage to candidates with Big-Dollar backing.

Party primaries give lesser-known candidates a chance to make contact with voters, recruit volunteers, raise funds, test their message, and compete with the "big boys" in a more targeted, more level arena.

OP forces all candidates into a single compressed "do-or-die" primary. That must favor candidates who can afford big advertising budgets over those who rely more on volunteers.

OP is a Trojan Horse. It's hidden cargo makes third parties irrelevant and gives corporate donors, PACs, and TheMedia more influence over the candidates.

On the other hand, I think very highly of Instant Runoff Voting. IRV may also have problems with a single short campaign season. But I think that allowing the voter to rank his/her preference among all the contestants has many advantages.

It certainly gives the "Democrat in Irvine" some influence on the outcome. A rational conservative could conceivably beat a Jarvis-Jihadi with enough 2nd and 3rd place votes from Dems and Indies.

IRV would also promote moderation in the campaign rhetoric - without promoting "moderate" candidates who try to please everyone, and satisfy no one.

Not sure if it would really curb the advantage of money and mass-media advertising... my gut says "yes".

Your thoughts?

Good summary of the problems (0.00 / 0)
Open primaries is just another channel for Organized Money to get more leverage on the system.  As if they needed any more.

[ Parent ]
The majority of elections in California already operate under this system (0.00 / 0)
I just don't get the uproar.

There is a better solution! (0.00 / 0)
Cumulative voting like in Illinois. We could increase the state legislature to 120 members from 80, out of 40 state senate districts with 3 legislators per state senate district. We could get perhaps Green party representation in Berkley or San Fransisco, the return of the classic liberal Republican in WeHo or Santa Monica and Libertarians in San Diego or in the Sierras.

California would still lean progressive or liberal, but we would get more political perspectives to be part of our state legislature.

This is a winning solution for progressives and good government reformers.

http://www.consciouschoice.com... explains more of an argument for cumulative voting.  

I agree (0.00 / 0)
I think this comment is right on.

[ Parent ]
"Cumulative Voting" (0.00 / 0)
Is just another commonly used proportional voting method.


Which we don't have because of structural impediments (see Duverger, Steven Hill above, etc). It's why we have this polarized two party system unlike most of the other industrialized democracies on the planet.

[ Parent ]
"First to the post" is not a bad system (0.00 / 0)
It's worth looking at the system as it's implemented in the UK or Canada to see that.

A fun way to learn about this is via a novel, of all things, by Jeffrey Archer, who was in the UK House of Commons from 1969 to 1974.  The book is called First Among Equals, and it's about four guys who are elected to Parliament in the 1960s and follows their careers until one of them becomes Prime Minister.

Understanding how their system is different from ours is helpful in understanding what's gone wrong in US politics -- the toxic influence of Organized Money, the lack of accountability, and the dumbing down of politics and the electorate.  And it's a good read as well.

BTW: get the UK edition, and not the dumbed down US edition.  If they're talking about 3 politicians and not 4, you have the wrong one.

[ Parent ]
Regarding Louisiana's "Jungle Primary" (0.00 / 0)
Some background from a Louisiana native on our primary system:

Actually, our "top two qualifies regardless of each party" system tends not to support more "moderate" candidates, but reinforce more conservative/right-wing rule here. In the case of Mary Landrieu, her biggest advantage was not that she was able to take advantage of the "open primary", but that there has been -- at least not since the Edwin Edwards era -- no particularly liberal populist Democratic politician to emerge to challenge the corporate estabilshment John Breaux wing of the party. (Baton Rouge state rep Cleo Fields made a nobile attempt during the 90's to establish himself in that role, but he got rolled by Mike Foster in his race for governor in '97, and he hasn't yet recovered.)

Between that and the loss of mostly Black population in LA due to the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina and the consolidation of power in emerging White exurban conservative areas like Acadiana and Baton Rouge, it has made the open primary superfluous. Our "moderate" Dems are nearly as right-wing as most establishment Republicans...and that's before you count on the Repubs moving even further right.

Also...there has been a push to eliminate the "open primary" system here in favor of a more closed party primary system, mostly to synch the state elections for Congress with the national Presidential primary. (Because of our quirky system here, the "primary elections" for House seats fall on Election Day, with runoffs (if applicable) falling on December.)

Personally, I'd prefer a more closed party primary system, where "independents" would be able to express their votes in the general election, and a proportional voting process installed to ensure a more open process. But I happen to think that the real issue is not with the process, it's more the influence of money and, mostly, the failure of progressives to organize with a strategic vision and shared common ideological focus that can transcend single issues and individual special interests.

Just my opinion, as always.

Great site, BTW...and special shoutout to Robert in Monterrey, whom I remember fondly from his roadgeekery/transportation days at the mtr board. Great to see that you are moving up and still speaking out.

Anthony Kennerson
Lafayette, Louisiana

Thanks for this comment (0.00 / 0)
And yeah, yours is a name I haven't seen in a while.

These are good insights as to what happens in Louisiana. And I believe you make a good point about the influence of money on the process, which is I suspect one of the underlying goals of the backers of top two - to enable those with wealth to play a greater role in determining political outcomes.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
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