Can Jungle (or Top-Two) Primaries be a Problem in 2018?


A jungle primary, otherwise known as a top-two primary, is one in which the top two vote-getters regardless of party move on to the general election. This can lead to two candidates from the same party to move forward.

At this time, Washington and California use it for both congressional and state-level elections, while Nebraska uses it only for nonpartisan state legislative races.

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 12.32.19 PM

States using a jungle primary system

A jungle primary can cause the Democrats some real issues this midterm year in Washington and California. Here’s why.

Let’s take an imaginary Democratic-leaning district in California with 2,000 voters. Let’s imagine that there are 1,200 Democratic voters and 800 Republican voters. There are two Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates in the primary. If the Democratic candidates equally split their voters, and the Republicans do the same you get this:

Dem #1 – 600 votes
Dem #2 – 600 votes
GOP #1 – 400 votes
GOP #2 – 400 votes

In this scenario, Dem #1 and Dem #2 move on to the general election because they got the most votes.

Now, let’s take that same imaginary district, but now there are 4 Democratic candidates to the same 2 Republican candidates. Let’s again assume each side equally splits their own voters. Now we get:

Dem #1 – 300 votes
Dem #2 – 300 votes
Dem #3 – 300 votes
Dem #4 – 300 votes
GOP #1 – 400 votes
GOP #2 – 400 votes

In this scenario, despite that there were more votes overall for Democratic candidates, both GOP candidates move on to the general election.

In 2018, with so many Democrats energized and a record number of people running for office, this can actually cause some unintended damage in these states with jungle primaries.

(News item: Clearly the Democratic organizers in CA-49 have some concerns about this as they attempt to flip Darrell Issa’s (R) seat. They held a candidate forum on Friday night but things got weird.)

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