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Posts Tagged ‘open primary’



Phony Poll Critique; Why We All Can’t Just Get Along

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Strategists, spokes- people, pollsters and purse-carriers for Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina all went berserk over the weekend, trying desperately to shoot down a new poll by the Los Angeles Times and University of Southern California showing Jerry Brown ahead of eMeg, 49-44% in the governor’s race, and Barbara Boxer crushing Hurricane Carly,  51-43% in the Senate contest.

Their big complaint was that the LAT/USC poll over-represented Democrats and under-represented Republicans and thus was skewed. They compared it to the recent Field Poll that found the governor’s race tied at 41% and Boxer with just a 6-point lead over Fiorina.

But their argument is baloney, and they know it because Calbuzz and the Times told them the actual partisan composition of the survey before they put out email memos and tweets designed to confuse and bamboozle readers.

Here are the facts. The charts in the first version of the LA Times story showed the partisan composition of the survey based on party identification — that is, a question asked of respondents: Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat or what?

By that measure, 54% of respondents said they think of themselves as Democrats and 39% said Republican. But that had nothing to do with the actual make-up of the likely voter sample in the survey.

The pool of respondents was taken from actual voter lists; those identified as likely voters had voted in previous elections (or were newly registered voters) who also expressed some measure of enthusiasm about voting in November. When these controls were applied, the likely voter sample contained 44% Democrats, 36% Republicans, 16% declines-to-state and 3% others.

That’s exactly what a likely voter sample should look like. In fact, it’s one percentage point more Republican than the Field Poll, which had 44% Democrats and 35% Republicans. On its updated web page, The Times explained it as follows:

For the Los Angeles Times/USC poll, the likely voter model is based on two factors — previous vote history and expressed enthusiasm for voting this year. That model yields a likely electorate that is considerably more Republican than the full pool of California voters because Republicans are far more likely this year to say they are enthusiastic about voting. The pool of likely voters is 44% registered Democrats, 36% registered Republicans and 16% registered as Decline to State. That eight-point spread between registered Democrats and Republicans compares to a 13-percentage point spread in the electorate as a whole. Additional details are at http://gqrr.com/index.php?ID=2520.

Despite this, Whitman’s pollsters, David Hill and John McLaughlin, sent out a memo comparing the Field Poll’s sample (based on registered voters) with four different possible calculations of likely voters done for the LAT/USC survey. Only problem: None of them were actually used by the LA Times in their story that showed Brown and Boxer leading (and they weren’t the basis of the poll’s sample).

The biggest difference between the Field Poll and the LAT/USC survey is that Field found Brown beating Whitman among Latinos just 43-40% based on 97 interviews weighted down to 90 cases. The LAT/USC survey had Latino Decisions survey 400 Latino registered voters and weighted them down to 122 cases (14.6%) among 838 likely voters. (To track this down, you have to go to page 343 of the crosstabs!) This yielded a much more robust (and probably realistic) Latino sample than the Field Poll had and the result was Brown over Whitman 51-32% and Boxer over Fiorina 60-22%.

Bottom line: Calbuzz sez LAT/USC poll is reliable and solid. Stop whining. It’s just 5 points and the margin or error was 3.3%.

Why the Bias Against Compromise Cripples California

The following post appeared today in the Los Angeles Times.

As earnest pundits decry the shortage of moderate centrists and bemoan the partisan polarization afflicting governance from Sacramento to Washington, most Americans now appear to prefer stubbornness over consensus.

Vigorous debate followed by principled compromise — the political attitude and approach that long made representative democracy work – no longer finds favor among a large plurality of voters, according to a surprising new national survey.

The findings add yet another layer of troubling evidence to suggest that the dysfunctional dynamic that grips and gridlocks state government will persist, regardless of whether Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman becomes California’s next governor.

By 49-42%, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their position without compromise” over those “who make compromises with someone they disagree with,” according to the survey by the Pew Research Center conducted for National Journal and the Society for Human Resource Management.

There are clear differences in the findings for the major political parties: Democrats embrace compromise, 54-39%, while Republicans stand against, by 62-33%. Most startling, however, is that independents – whom conventional wisdom holds will favor less partisan political centrism – strongly embrace the anti-compromise position, 53-40%.

“This is further evidence that the current political atmosphere is not merely contentious, but hostile to any hope of negotiated settlements to the many political and policy differences that define the current landscape,” wrote National Journal’s Major Garrett.

“In essence,” he said, the survey “suggests a confrontational mood in the country that may mirror the partisan wrangling in Washington and might even give trumped-up cable TV’s political spout-fests some rationale for their vein-popping intensity.”

That’s quite a statement, coming from the truly fair and balanced former political reporter for Fox News, who recently fled the hyper-partisan cable network to return to print journalism.

While the findings are national, reflecting the emergence of the Tea Party and its passionate celebration of anti-government intransigence, the data also shed light on Sacramento’s politics of dysfunction.*

Popular opposition to the very notion of  “compromise” — a concept that appears to sound like a weakness to many voters –  adds one more confounding entry to a familiar list of structural flaws that undercut governance in California: a wayward initiative system, a boom and bust taxation set-up, the Proposition 13 straitjacket, a super-majority requirement for passage of a budget, plus gerrymandering and term limits.

This nexus of political and economic factors has eroded the authority and effectiveness of historic power centers within the state Capitol and so enfeebled “leadership” that no one can enforce a deal to forge solutions to intractable policy problems. Just passing a budget has become a Herculean challenge.

In the current political atmosphere, every lawmaker is essentially an army of one – and none of them need fear the governor, the speaker or any other leader. Gerrymandered districts all but guarantee most incumbents reelection, while term limits offer a perverse incentive for cynical self-promotion in furtherance of individual ambition over cooperative collaboration in service of the public interest.

With every lawmaker essentially a free agent short-timer, seeking from their first days in Sacramento a pathway up the ladder, it is most often lobbyists who retain institutional memory and remain the only long-playing experts on complex issues.  That the latter control and direct an obscene flow of campaign contributions adds a layer of soft corruption to the process.

Just as term limits, since its 1990 passage, has framed a system discouraging compromise, so the redrawing of political boundaries following the 2000 census has shaped a political process encouraging partisan gamesmanship.

With legislative districts blatantly designed to ensure the victory of a Democrat in one and a Republican in another, the party primary, not the general election, became the crucial political contest.  This process heavily favored, alternately, the most liberal or the most conservative ideologue who could motivate his party’s base in traditionally low-turnout primaries.

Thus the politicians arriving in Sacramento typically represent the left and right wings of their parties. Far from thinking about the interests of California as a whole, their only concern is servicing their districts, an arrangement offering no inducement to compromise on anything

Voters have taken steps to reform this situation — passing an initiative in 2008 installing an independent commission to oversee reapportionment and approving an initiative in June that reduces the importance of party in primary elections. It is instructive, however, that legislative Democrats and Republicans found rare agreement in efforts to undo both measures, sponsoring a November proposition to seize back the Legislature’s control of redistricting and mounting an aggressive legal challenge to the “open primary” plan.

So while Brown’s big idea in the governor’s race has been a promise to summon all 120 legislators immediately after the election and apply sweet reason to their bitter differences, and Whitman vows she’ll veto most of their bills and lock them in a room until she gets her way, the plain fact is that neither will have much of a chance to find common ground with the opposition party unless some fundamental changes are made.

This will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, at a time when large numbers of voters equate compromise with capitulation.

*(The new Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll offers a glimmer of hope for California, finding that voters by a 2-1 margin say they’d prefer a governor “who can work effectively with others across party lines” to one who “is single-minded and will fight for what he or she thinks is correct.”

Democrats, moderates and liberals are most in favor of a governor who works with the opposition, but even Republicans and conservatives would rather have a governor who can work effectively across party lines.

The problem in Sacramento, however, has not been finding a governor who will work across party lines; the problem is finding enough legislators who will work with the governor.)

Prop. 14 Debate: Good Arguments on Both Sides

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Calbuzz is of two minds about Proposition 14 on Tuesday’s ballot.

On the one hand, we think anything both major political parties are dead set against must be touching on something important. And we can see how it would be that if candidates had to appeal to voters of all stripes — not just Democrats and Republicans — it’s possible that more centrist, moderate, reasonable legislators might get elected who would be prepared to compromise in Sacramento to get something done, fercrineoutloud.

On the other hand, there’s a pretty sound argument that parties ought to be able to pick their own representatives and that taking away that right cuts parties off at the knees at a time when parties are bringing people into the political process who might otherwise have no clue for whom to vote. We’ve already approved a new, non-partisan system for creating legislative boundaries. Let’s give that a chance to work before trying to fix electoral outcomes by tinkering with the electoral system.

Here are a pair of arguments on Proposition 14, from the great political writer and author Lou Cannon and from Thomas G. Del Beccaro, vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Yes: Candidates Will Have to Appeal to Independents

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Lou Cannon
Special to Calbuzz

California’s political system is broken. Hamstrung by unbending partisanship and the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget or a tax increase, a dysfunctional Legislature has persistently failed to deal with the state’s pressing problems or its debilitating structural deficit.

Reformers have responded with grandiose proposals for change, such as a constitutional convention, which have come to naught. Since the Legislature and the major political parties resist any and all reforms, Californians who want to take back their state have no choice except to make a series of incremental changes through the initiative process.

The first useful step in this process came in 2008, when voters approved Proposition 11, which will take redistricting out of the hands of the legislators and vest it in a citizen’s commission. The new districts will be drawn after this year’s census for the 2012 election. The next step is to pass Proposition 14, opening up elections so that the top two candidates in the primary, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This provision would apply to most state and federal elective offices but not to presidential primaries.

Proposition 11 and Proposition 14 are best understood as companion pieces. Proposition 11 was needed because legislators protect their careers at the expense of the rest of us by gerrymandering their districts to protect themselves and their parties. The cozy, one-sided districts they created assured that there would be no competition in the general election. This effectively disenfranchised independents (known as “declines-to-state” in California), most of whom do not participate in the primaries. It also tended to drive both major parties to extremes.

Liberals have a disproportionate advantage in the Democratic primaries, conservatives an even more decisive edge in most GOP primaries. Moderates in either party who might appeal to independents in the general election had so little chance in the primaries that most of them chose not to run. As a result, many Democratic officeholders tend to be reflexively liberal—or at least in thrall to the public employee unions who finance them. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are rigid conservatives who stand ready to block even the most reasonable budget if it contains a whiff of a tax hike.

For the past decade, budget compromises have occurred only when a GOP legislator broke with his party on tax issues. The occasional courageous Republican who did so incurred the wrath of his party and often the loss of his job.

Anyone old enough (as I am) to remember the creativity of the California legislature in the mid-20th Century, when it was acclaimed as the best in the nation, can’t help being appalled by the present collection of ideologues and party hacks. Proposition 14 could change this by greatly increasing the number of independent-minded moderates in the candidate pool. Every voter would receive the same ballot, putting independents on an equal footing with party regulars.

Such a ballot might also encourage the parties to forth candidates of broad appeal to assure themselves a spot on the November ballot. There is, of course, no special virtue to being a moderate. On any given issue moderates can be as wrong (or right) as liberals or conservatives. But Proposition 14 would level the playing field. Polls show that some 40 percent of the voters consider themselves to be moderates, and they are conspicuously underrepresented in Sacramento. Proposition 14 is an incremental reform that would give sensible centrists a chance.

Lou Cannon of Santa Barbara is the foremost biographer of Ronald Reagan in the world, and a former political writer for the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.

No: Preserve Voters’ Choices, Boost Participation

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Thomas G. Del Beccaro
Special to Calbuzz

Proposition 14 demonstrates the dangers of good intentions.

Although proponents claim it will increase voter participation and bring a new class of politicians to Sacramento, in the two states where Prop. 14’s Top Two format has been tried, incumbency rates have gone up, voter participation has gone down and third party candidates have disappeared.

Under Prop. 14, there is a large open primary in June and then only the top two finishers square off in the fall. There are no write-ins and often just two Democrats or two Republicans on the ballot in the fall.  There are two key problems with the system:

Higher Incumbency Rates. Prop 14’s Top Two system exists in Louisiana and Washington State.  In 35 years in Louisiana, no incumbent lost in the primary until two faced off because of redistricting.  Washington saw only one lose out of 139 races – a higher rate of incumbency than in California.  Plain and simple, Prop. 14 results in more incumbents winning – not a new  class of legislators as the proponents claim.

Prop. 14 favors incumbents because the nature of the mass open primary results in a very expensive primary (candidates have to reach the entire voter spectrum) and then a general election.  Also, candidates cannot put an (R) or a (D) by their name on the ballot.  Combined, such rules favor the rich and famous  – i.e. very often incumbents.

Lower Voter Participation.   Prop. 14 proponents claim it will lead to higher voter participation rates.  That too is fantasy, not fact: Top Two systems lower voter participation.  In Washington, voter participation dropped from 45+% in 2004 (pre-Top Two) to 42+% in 2008 (post Top Two).  What is remarkable about that drop is that 2008 was the Obama election year when Democrat participation was boosted.  Why did it drop?  Because Top Two systems reduce voter choice.

In California, voter choice and participation will drop because (1) studies show that up to 30% of the races will feature two Democrats in the fall election or just two Republicans, and (2) 3rd party participation will plummet  — effectively disenfranchising 4.5% of California voters.  So, in the SF/Bay Area, there will be no Republicans on the ballot for Assembly or Senate – and no Democrats in the Central Valley.  Without a real choice, history shows voters stay home.

In sum, Prop. 14 has worse than failed in Washington and Louisiana.  Why adopt a system we know doesn’t work?  Vote No on 14.

Thomas G. Del Beccaro is vice chair of the California Republican Party, author of The New Conservative Paradigm and publisher of www.politicalvanguard.com