Proposition 14 Fact vs. Fiction: Thoughts from Political Scientists Seth Masket and Boris Shor

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Christina Tobin
(415) 599-5222

On Tuesday, June 8, California voters will decide the fate of Proposition 14, the controversial ballot measure also known as the Top Two Primaries Act. Two leading political scientists, Boris Shor and Seth Masket, have studied the polarization problem extensively. Their findings show that Proposition 14 will not solve California’s partisanship problem.

Political scientist Boris Shor studied polarization in the state legislatures of all 50 states over the last 15 years. Using Project Vote Smart questionnaires and roll call records, Shor found that California has the most polarized legislature. Washington State has the nation’s second most polarized legislature, and, ironically, Washington has used a blanket primary most of those 15 years and now uses a top-two system like Prop 14.

Political scientist Seth Masket is author of the book No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures. Masket studied Shor’s data and declared there is no correlation at all between openness of primary and polarization of that state’s legislature. He noted that Ohio and Wisconsin are also highly polarized, which use classic open primaries.

Seth Masket commented on the Shor chart in his blog Enik Rising, “Given that other evidence about primaries and partisanship suggests little relationship between the two, I doubt the initiative would have anything close to the impact its backers suggest.”

“There is no evidence that this type of system helps the polarization problem,” stated Christina Tobin, chair of StopTopTwo.Org. “It’s almost like the Pro Prop 14 crowd is trying to convince Californians the world is flat.”