Jim recently spoke to the University Club of San Fransico about the state's new top two primary system.
On March 2nd, the University Club of San Francisco invited our own Jim Ross to partake in a panel discussion about California’s new top two primary system. Jim, alongside Republican political consultant, James Fisfis, and San Francisco State history professor, Robert Cherry, discussed the pros and cons of the new primary.
Among the topics that the panelists talked about: whether the state’s Democratic and Republican parties will survive under the rules of the new primary, whether candidate ideologies will become more important than their party identifications in the new primary, and whether the state legislature will become more effective as a result of the new primary.
Jim told his fellow panelists that he believes the Democratic Party will remain a strong force within the state. As long as California voters continue to think of the party positively, its endorsement will continue to carry weight. The party will continue to attract candidates who want its recommendation, and because those candidates will have to please the party establishment to get the endorsement, the party will continue to have some pull. “And that (candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s endorsement) is a trend that is going to continue, because in contrast to the Republican brand, the Democratic brand is still very strong in the state,” Jim said.
The Republican Party does not have excellent brand recognition within California, which the panelists concluded would affect its power in upcoming elections. In the new primary system, Republican candidates will have to woo all voters, not just the voters in their own party. In contrast to the current system, the candidates might choose to forgo the Republican Party brand so as to not alienate the non-Republican voters they’re trying to attract.
Though the Democratic Party is likely to remain strong, and the Republican Party is likely to become weaker, both parties’ candidates will have to rely less on the parties’ in order to survive in the new primary.
“I think what is going to happen in the new primary system is that voters are going to start to look at candidates on a more ideological basis, and less on a party identity basis,” Jim said. Because candidates from both parties will have to run against each other in the top two primary, they will have to build broader coalitions of support in order to make it to the general election. Candidates with a wide spectrum of ideas, ideas that reach outside their parties, will appeal more to the whole electorate than candidates that have narrower, more party defined focuses. Though candidates will still be able to use their party IDs to appeal to voters, their platforms will be more important in terms of attracting votes.
The panelists agreed that as parties become less relevant to candidates, interest coalitions will start to spring up in the parties’ place. Labor coalitions, business coalitions, and activist coalitions will form to endorse candidates. “Under this primary process, we are already seeing coalitions forming between businesses and labor unions,” Jim said. “It has been something that has been quite interesting, because private sector unions are starting to form alliances with their employers to support candidates that have agendas that will be good for both of them.”
As for whether the state government will become more effective because of the new top two system, the panelists were unsure. The panelists believed that California has several institutional, constitutional and demographical problems the top two primary is unlikely to fix.