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Voting at the Political Fault Line

Voting at the Political Fault Line: California's Experiment with the Blanket Primary

Bruce E. Cain
Elisabeth R. Gerber
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Voting at the Political Fault Line
    Book Description:

    California's adoption of the blanket primary in 1996 presented a unique natural experiment on the impact that election rules have on politics. Billed as a measure that would increase voter participation and end ideological polarization, Proposition 198 placed California voters once again on the frontier of political reform. Employing a variety of data sources and methodologies, the contributors toVoting at the Political Fault Lineapply their wide-ranging expertise to understand how this change in political institutions affected electoral behavior and outcomes. This authoritative study analyzes the consequences of California's experiment with the blanket primary, including the incidence of, motivations behind, and persistence of crossover voting; the behavior of candidates and donors; the effects on candidate positions and party platforms; and the consequences for women, minorities, and minor-party candidates.Published in association with the Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93577-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xi)

    • CHAPTER ONE California’s Blanket Primary Experiment
      (pp. 3-11)
      Bruce E. Cain and Elisabeth R. Gerber

      There are some who tout physics as the model field for the social sciences, admiring its deductive rigor and explanatory power. But, plausibly, the more appropriate analogy is geology, in which unpredictable events such as earthquakes sometimes create opportunities to study more basic underlying processes and laws. The earthquake metaphor is particularly applicable to California, which has been the site of several dramatic political as well as geological ruptures in recent years. One of the most significant was the passage of Proposition 198, the Blanket Primary Initiative, in 1996. The blanket primary itself is not new (Washington has used it...

    • CHAPTER TWO Crossover Voting before the Blanket: Primaries versus Parties in California History
      (pp. 12-35)
      Brian J. Gaines and Wendy K. Tam Cho

      The passage of Proposition 198 was in plain defiance of the preferences and advice of most elites, including, notably, both of the major political parties. In this chapter, we briefly trace the chronology of primary elections in the Golden State, with an emphasis on how they have been intertwined, from the beginning, with an anti-party spirit. We thus orient the blanket primary, as delivered by direct democracy, in a distinctive state political culture of independence from, and ambivalence or even hostility toward, political parties. We then focus on the parallels between voting options under the blanket primary law and those...

    • CHAPTER THREE Political Reform via the Initiative Process: What Voters Think about When They Change the Rules
      (pp. 36-58)
      Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan

      This chapter examines support for Proposition 198, California’s 1996 blanket primary initiative. Proposition 198 is considered to be part of a long series of initiatives that have presented California voters with choices about how their political institutions should be structured. We use public opinion data to test hypotheses about the nature of mass support for such political reform initiatives. We test if support is associated with voters’ self-interest and with general dissatisfaction with politics. Our findings support the idea that voting for Proposition 198 was structured by reasoning about the consequences of the proposed reform. Strong partisans were opposed to...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Context and Setting: The Mood of the California Electorate
      (pp. 59-74)
      Mark Baldassare

      In this chapter, we analyze the mood of California voters during the 1998 primary. We use the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Statewide Surveys conducted in April and May 1998, each with a total of two thousand adults, to gauge the political, social, and economic attitudes that provide the backdrop to voters’ ballot choices (Baldassare 1998a, 1998b).

      Voters nominated high-profile political insiders in both parties’ gubernatorial races. The winners, Attorney General Dan Lungren and Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis, were conventional candidates, seemingly the kind who would have won in a closed primary. With the two-term Governor, Pete Wilson, termed...


    • CHAPTER FIVE The Causes and Consequences of Crossover Voting in the 1998 California Elections
      (pp. 77-106)
      John Sides, Jonathan Cohen and Jack Citrin

      Both advocates and opponents of the blanket primary believed that the change in rules could affect voting behavior, candidate attributes, campaign strategies, and ultimately election outcomes. In this chapter, we explore voting behavior, in particular the much-discussed, much-anticipated, and, in some quarters, much-maligned phenomenon of crossover voting—the act of voting for a candidate outside one’s own party. Drawing upon a series of pre- and post-primary surveys conducted by the Field Institute as well as theLos Angeles Timesprimary election exit poll, we examine California’s 1998 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.¹ Of course, with only one blanket primary having...

    • CHAPTER SIX Should I Stay or Should I Go? Sincere and Strategic Crossover Voting in California Assembly Races
      (pp. 107-123)
      R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler

      There are at least two important questions about voter behavior in California’s blanket primary. The first is,How manyvoters took the opportunity to cast a ballot for a candidate of a party different than that of the voter’s registration or identification? The second question is,Whydid these crossover voters decide to defect from their own party’s nomination campaign and to support a candidate from another party?

      In this chapter, we focus on these two questions at the Assembly district level. We examine Assembly district crossover voting for a number of reasons. First, there are eighty Assembly districts in...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Peeking Under the Blanket: A Direct Look at Crossover Voting in the 1998 Primary
      (pp. 124-140)
      Anthony M. Salvanto and Martin P. Wattenberg

      Before California’s blanket primary went into effect in 1998, its proponents argued that the new system would produce more moderate candidates: with all voters now able to vote in any contest, they reasoned, candidates with broader appeals would win. Opponents of the new system saw it as an infringement on a party’s right to choose its own nominees. They feared that Democrats’ nomination fights could now be unfairly influenced—perhaps even determined—by registered Republicans, and vice-versa. Minor-party contests might be especially vulnerable; with their low vote totals, they could easily be flooded by voters from the major parties. Moreover,...


    • CHAPTER EIGHT Crossing Over When It Counts: How the Motives of Voters in Blanket Primaries Are Revealed by Their Actions in General Elections
      (pp. 143-170)
      Thad Kousser

      The way a voter behaves in a general election reveals much about the motivation behind that voter’s choice in a blanket primary. A Californian who crossed party lines in the June 1998 blanket primary could have done so for two reasons. She might have been sincere, crossing over out of a true preference for another party’s candidate over any that her own camp had to offer. Or perhaps she was being strategic, backing someone who was not her top choice in the primary in order to help secure a favorable general election match-up (the two possible forms of strategic voting,...

    • CHAPTER NINE Candidates, Donors, and Voters in California’s Blanket Primary Elections
      (pp. 171-191)
      Wendy K. Tam Cho and Brian J. Gaines

      In March of 1996, by a 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent vote, California voters approved Proposition 198, thereby changing the state’s primary election law from closed to open. A large majority of citizens undoubtedly consider electoral law to be exceptionally esoteric, even less worthy of attention than normal party politics. By contrast, professional politicians quite sensibly take great interest in electoral mechanisms, as is evident from the heated arguments at the elite level that preceded and, especially, followed Proposition 198’s passage. In this chapter, we do not directly take sides on the merits and demerits of the “blanket” primary. Nor...

    • CHAPTER TEN Strategic Voting and Candidate Policy Positions
      (pp. 192-213)
      Elisabeth R. Gerber

      One of the most debated questions about the blanket primary is whether it advantages candidates with ideologically moderate or ideologically extreme policy positions.¹ This question directly addresses the issue of political representation. If moderate candidates benefit from the blanket primary, in the sense of having a higher probability of being nominated and elected, then we expect the interests of citizens sharing their centrist or moderate views to be better represented in the policy process. If ideologically extreme candidates benefit from the blanket primary, we expect citizens with extreme views to benefit instead.

      Two views regarding the effects of the blanket...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Openness Begets Opportunity: Minor Parties and California’s Blanket Primary
      (pp. 214-233)
      Christian Collet

      Relatively speaking, the 1990s were prosperous times for minor parties in California. Since the decade began, the number of minor parties qualified for the state ballot doubled, from three to six; the number of alternative candidates mounting campaigns for Congress grew from 33 in the 1990 elections to 77 in 1998 (from 0.7 to roughly 1.5 candidates per district); and the proportion of statewide voters not registering with the Republicans or Democrats grew from 11 to 18 percent. Minor-party candidates won nonpartisan races in Berkeley, Davis, Santa Monica, Simi Valley, and Santa Cruz; and in 1996 the Green party won...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Thinner Ranks: Women as Candidates and California’s Blanket Primary
      (pp. 234-247)
      Miki Caul and Katherine Tate

      Despite recent gains, women remain numerically underrepresented among elected officials in the United States at both the state and national levels. In 1997, women made up only 12 percent of the House of Representatives and 9 percent of the U.S. Senate. Rates of female officeholding across the fifty state governments vary considerably, with Kentucky and Alabama having the fewest women serving in their state legislatures at 5 to 7 percent and Colorado and Washington having the most at 40 percent. In California, women make up 18 percent of the state Senate and one-quarter of the Assembly (Field and Sohner 1999)....

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Targets of Opportunity: California’s Blanket Primary and the Political Representation of Latinos
      (pp. 248-269)
      Gary M. Segura and Nathan D. Woods

      What effect, if any, did the adoption of the blanket primary have on the political fortunes of California’s Latino voters? Most Latino voters register and vote as Democrats, and the attachment of Latinos to the Democratic party has become stronger in recent years (Segura, Falcón, and Pachon 1997). Given their strong partisan attachments, it is conceivable that, because these voters are especially unlikely to cross over, the blanket primary meant nothing to the political future of California Latinos, and Latino politicians had little to gain or lose by the switch to this more open system.

      While our evidence is extremely...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Candidate Strategy, Voter Response, and Party Cohesion
      (pp. 270-300)
      John R. Petrocik

      Primaries, the advocates of party government insist, reduce the authoritativeness of party leaders, encourage unmanageable programmatic heterogeneity among the party’s candidates and officeholders, threaten a candidate’s general election success when they are divisive, and severely limit the role of party organizations—to name just a few of the harms commonly attributed to them.¹ The effects are worse with some forms of the primary, and are thought to reach their limit with blanket primaries, which potentially eliminate any party basis to a nomination.² Systematic evidence supporting these outcomes is not extensive. The correlation is mostly demonstrated by the coincidence of the...


    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Blanket Primary in the Courts: The Precedent and Implications of California Democratic Party v. Jones
      (pp. 303-323)
      Nathaniel Persily

      In addition to the lessons it has taught political scientists about voting behavior, partisanship, and the effect of electoral rules, California’s experiment with the blanket primary provided the courts with an opportunity to define the constitutional character of political parties and primary elections. In the case ofCalifornia Democratic Party v. Jones, 120 S. Ct. 2402 (2000), California’s political parties successfully challenged the blanket primary as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Overruling the District Court and Court of Appeals that had upheld the initiative as a reasonable exercise of the state’s power to increase participation and enhance the representativeness of...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Strategies and Rules: Lessons from the 2000 Presidential Primary
      (pp. 324-343)
      Bruce E. Cain and Megan Mullin

      In this chapter, we consider some similarities between California’s blanket primary debate and the controversies caused by Senator John McCain’s open primary strategy for winning the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. As we have indicated throughout this book, nomination rules dictate who gets to decide a party’s nominee, and by inference, the candidate’s ideological appeal. Allowing independents and members of other parties to cross over and vote in a primary election changes the strategic incentives and opportunities that candidates face. In the end, the question of who gets to choose a party’s nominee critically determines the types of candidates who prevail...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Conclusion
      (pp. 344-354)
      Bruce E. Cain and Elisabeth R. Gerber

      This volume has several purposes. One is to explain the background and motivation for the passage of the blanket primary reform in California. A second is to assess the impact of this election system change on numerous aspects of the electoral process, including voter participation and behavior, campaign strategy, election costs, the ideological makeup of the legislature, and the viability of women, minority, and minor-party candidates. However, there are important caveats to any generalizations we might derive from this exercise. To begin with, the authors do not agree on every point. But also, it is important to remember that the...

    (pp. 355-360)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 361-373)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 374-374)