Reinvention is part of California’s credo, the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to make of themselves and their lives what they will — and do it over again, if they’re not happy the first time. Second chances, surgical alterations, artificial enhancement — the only limits are wealth and the imagination. That extends not just to the body beautiful but the body politic. After years of partisan squabbling, massive budget deficits and general haplessness in Sacramento, voters grew fed up and decided it was time for a government makeover. One result was Proposition 14, passed in June 2010 and intended to help bring a new breed of more accommodating, less ideological lawmaker to the state capital. (The proposition also covered congressional and U.S. Senate contests, for good measure.) It was supposed to work like this: Candidates would run in a free-for-all primary with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff, regardless of party affiliation. Absent the need to appease the most puritanical elements of the major parties, the thinking went, candidates would broaden their appeal to the many voters in the middle. Voila! A more harmonious, pragmatic and productive Legislature. (Fixing Washington’s scabrous culture would, presumably, take longer.) Has it worked? In short, no, not yet.
New academic research, published Sunday by the California Journal of Politics & Policy, found that voters were just as apt to support candidates representing the same partisan poles as they were before the election rules changed — that is, if they even bothered voting.
Moreover, the studies found, while there is indication of a somewhat more “business-friendly” — another way of saying moderate — approach to lawmaking by Sacramento’s majority Democrats, there is no conclusive evidence the change resulted from California’s new way of choosing its lawmakers.
“To summarize, our articles find very limited support for the moderating effects associated with the top-two primary,” Washington University’s Betsy Sinclair wrote, summarizing half a dozen research papers. (A link to the journal, published by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, is here.)