California Journal of Politics and Policy
Voter Behavior in California’s Top Two Primary
- Author(s): Nagler, Jonathan
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/P2cjpp7125524
California’s Top Two Primary in 2012 gave voters the chance to cross party lines to vote for the candidate of their choice in what was the equivalent of a two-stage election with run-off. The top two vote getters in each race, independent of party, proceeded to the general election. Using a panel survey design I examine the behavior of voters under this system at both the primary (first) stage and general election (second) stage. I estimate how many voters chose to cross party lines, and how many did so for strategic reasons. I then examine how voters behaved when faced with different scenarios in the general election regarding the availability of their preferred candidate, or any candidate representing their party. I find that surprisingly few voters crossed party lines, and relatively few who did so did so for strategic reasons. If such low levels of crossover continue, the impact of the top two primary on candidate ideology will likely be small. At the general election stage, voters who were faced with two candidates of the opposing party often chose to simply abstain from such races at a high rate.