California political reforms create more competition

4:12 PM, Nov 9, 2012   |    comments
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California's changes to its political systems, through independent redistricting and a new primary system, created more competition and may have helped fuel the strong gains by Democrats on Election Day.

That's the initial assessment from researchers at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, as the dust begins to settle on Tuesday's big finish to the 2012 campaign.

PPIC found that while it didn't necessarily translate into different outcomes, the election cycle did include more competitive legislative and congressional races than in the past.

In congressional races, researchers Eric McGhee and Daniel Krimm report that 18 percent of contests featuring a Democrat and a Republican ended with a margin of victory of less than 10 points - compared to an average of 7 percent of D-vs-R congressional races over the past decade.

But a noticeable number of November 6 races were showdowns between two candidates from the same party. 28 congressional or legislative races were an intraparty affair, and PPIC's researchers point out that all but one of those took place in parts of the state that would've seen general election blowout under the old system.

Democrats were the big winners on Tuesday, though it's unclear how much of that to attribute to these electoral reforms and how much of it was due to specific forces in this election, the decline in the GOP's share of the California electorate, and so on.

"The fall electorate was considerably more favorable to Democrats than the one in the primary," write McGhee and Krimm. So much so that 30 percent of Democratic candidates that finished second to a Republican in June actually surged ahead and won on Tuesday. Only three percent of Republican candidates in D-vs-R races this fall could say the same.

Even so, there were still many things familiar when it came to the final result from this first election cycle since the creation of the top two primary and independent redistricting. Incumbents still won more often than not, and still often by large margins.

And voters still seem to have taken their cues from political party endorsements; in the 16 intraparty contests where one of the candidates was endorsed by the party, 12 ended with that favorite son or daughter carrying the day.


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