In summary

The California top two primary system was supposed to bring bipartisan comity to state politics. But among political insiders, ambivalence abounds.

In the lead up to this year’s primary election, no topic was the subject of as much hand wringing as California’s “top two primary.” 

Democrats feared the dreaded “shut out” scenario, whereby a surplus of eager progressive candidates in a single race would divide up the left-of-center vote, leaving the top two spots to Republicans. Republicans faced the prospect that in a blue state, they would fail to muster enough votes to make the cut-off—and indeed, voters have once again been left to choose between two U.S. Senate finalists who are Democrats.

By allowing only the first and second place winners of the June vote to move onto the general election ballot, the top two system was supposed to bring bipartisan comity and sensible centrism to state politics. And yet, while Democrats avoided the nightmare scenario (Republicans weren’t so lucky), eight years after the change was introduced, ambivalence still abounds.

A recent survey of political insiders shows as much. As part of our Target Book Insider Track Survey series, we asked respondents for their assessment of top two. The results suggest that at least among those who do politics for a living, top two is far from an unqualified hit.

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Ben Christopher

Ben covers California politics and elections. Prior to that, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written...