Open primaries don’t necessarily result in more moderate elected officials

NPR recently featured an interview with Nolan McCarty of Princeton who has recently compared states that have open primary systems (where everyone can vote) or closed primary systems (where only partisans can vote) and found that there is no discernible difference in the ideological extremity of candidates from either system. They both tend to produce ideologically extreme candidates. This is because moderates do not tend to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in open primaries which are instead dominated by ideological partisans, just like closed primaries.

I recommend taking 5 minutes to listen to the interview.

Once again, voters have only themselves to blame for the massive amount of polarization in Congress. If ideological moderates were to participate more, we might get more more moderate politicians elected to office. Instead we have a political system where only the ideologically extreme partisans participate, and lo and behold, we get an ideologically extreme set of politicians representing us.

This also has implications for Utah’s “Count My Vote” initiative that is trying to change Utah’s caucus-based partisan primary system to a more open primary system. There are very good reasons to support such an initiative (increasing the opportunities for access and participation being chief among them) but thinking that it will result in less ideological candidates coming out of Utah should not be one of them.

One response to “Open primaries don’t necessarily result in more moderate elected officials

  1. Very interesting article. I live in Washington state where we have Top-Two open primary. It doesn’t work. It only serves to strengthen the dominant party within the district. With Top-Two voters are very limited in their choices at the general election. Their choice is usually limited to two Democrats, two Republicans, or if they are really luck, a Democrat and Republican. In districts dominated by one party the most extreme candidate is usually the winner thereby further polarizing the legislature or congress.

    As a County Party Chairman, I became very interested in this topic. Stronger political parties are not the answer as was one solution stated in the interview. Instead, we need to weaken the influence of both major parties. Top-Two limits the choices voters have in the General election -always. It becomes highly unlikely a minority party candidate or no party candidate will ever be in the General election.

    There are a lot of good ideas for reform but unfortunately they weren’t mentioned in this interview. Here are three of the best ideas I have heard:

    Hold Instant Runoff elections. Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates as their first choice, second choice, third, fourth and so on. If a candidate does not receive a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoff counts are conducted, using each voter’s top choices indicated on the ballot. A plurality winner is then generated from this tabulation. The winner, receives a clear majority, in many cases, either the first or second choice of voters.

    Political Parties, no matter who they are, should run their own primaries – and pay for them, not the State. It’s a free country. If the Tea Party, Green Party, Socialist Party or whatever party, want to hold primary elections among their members that’s fine. Let them organize and pay for that process and present their candidate to the people in the General Election.

    Smaller Congressional Districts (100,000 citizens or less per district), Today, Congressional districts are well over 700,000 and growing. Being 1-in- 700 thousand we are not well represented. Smaller districts would return the power to the people, limit the influence of big money, special interest & political parties, and keep representatives accountable.

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