Apparently Voters Don’t Know Much About the People They Vote For

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


California has recently enacted two electoral reforms. In June 2010, we passed an open primary initiative that allowed the top two finishers to go on the general election, even if both are from the same party, and a few months later we passed a second initiative that created a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines in congressional races. Supporters of these initiatives hoped that they would push Californians to vote for more moderate candidates.

Over at the Monkey Cage, a team of researchers reports on a study suggesting that the open primary law failed to accomplish this. Their methodology strikes me as a bit iffy, so I’d take it with a grain of salt, but I was interested in what their data said about why the open primary system seemingly failed to change things:

While voters are generally quite moderate and were willing to cast crossover votes (roughly 12% of our participants who voted for a major party candidate did so), they largely failed to discern ideological differences between extreme and moderate candidates of the same party, particularly if they were challengers.

….Of particular interest in the second graph—which includes only Republican candidates—are the respondent placements for District 24. Abel Maldonado is a well-known moderate politician in California….His potential constituents rated him at roughly 5.25 on the 7-point scale. However, they gave almost the same rating to his fellow GOP challenger Chris Mitchum, a little-known actor and Tea Party candidate.

Again, I’d take this with a grain of salt. It’s one study, the sample sizes are fairly small, and it’s early days for open primaries. Still, I’d like to see further research specifically on the question of how accurately voters assess candidates. Certainly it’s my sense that plenty of primary campaigns are brutal affairs in which it’s crystal clear who the more extreme candidates are. But maybe that’s true only in the high-profile races that tend to get national coverage. In others, maybe voters really don’t have much of an idea of who’s the centrist and who’s out on the fringe. I’d certainly be curious to see this studied further.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate