Scoring the Primary Results

Darry Sragow
Publisher of the California Target Book and USC professor

Political insiders, like stock market traders, love to ascribe great meaning to events even when often times none exists.

Leading up to election day, it was being reported that California would experience an incredible increase in voter turnout, one of historic proportion, as young voters and voters of color surged to the polls in support of Bernie Sanders or as a response to the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.

Given the way votes are cast and counted in this state, it will be a while longer before we can draw definitive conclusions about Tuesday’s results.  That said, based on where the vote count stands now it appears that:

  • Registration surged, favoring the Democrats.
  • Whether turnout did or did not surge depends on your definition of “surge.” When all is said and done, the total number of votes cast Tuesday may reach or approach about 8 million, short of about 9 million in the 2008 primary but substantially exceeding roughly 5.3 million in the 2012 primary. That will not break new ground.
  • The age and ethnicity of the electorate looks similar to previous recent elections.
  • Independent Expenditures continued to increase dramatically, but with mixed results.
  • In light of a last minute poll reporting a two point race between Sanders and Clinton, it seems to be increasingly difficult to produce accurate political polls in California.

These dynamics will be discussed at great length by journalists, bloggers, tweeters and texters.

But other important developments may be overlooked.

One key outcome is that the Top Two Primary is having a significant effect on the electoral choices available to California voters.

Again with the caveat that results may change in a few races as ballots continue to be counted, as of this writing 15 percent of fall Assembly races will be same party runoffs (nine Democratic and three Republican); 25 percent of Senate races will be same party runoffs (five Democratic); just short of 10 percent of Congressional races will be same party runoffs (five Democratic).

When you throw in seats where a candidate is running unopposed, in almost all cases those candidates being Democrats, here is the percentage of traditional two party fall face offs in each house:  Assembly, just over two-thirds; Senate 70 percent; House 89 percent.

That’s data, not conjecture, and these results suggest that the Top Two Primary merits inclusion in the ranks of term limits and other voter approved disruptive innovations, all of them arguably intended to increase competition in the political market place. The extent to which these measures are achieving that purpose is a different question.

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