Do Non-Partisan Primary Elections Make Immigration Legislation More Likely?

So argues an important Wall Street Journal piece today based on California’s experience with its new, “Top-Two” primary system in the 2012 elections.  Laced with quotes from political insiders, including Republican members of California’s congressional delegation, the argument is that because these Republicans do not have to fear a more conservative challenger in an upcoming closed primary, they are able to better reflect the more centrist position of the state’s voters.  Like all WSJ pieces, this one is behind a paywall, so I’ll excerpt just a couple of key quotes:

“The open primary system makes you more responsive to your entire district,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from the Central Valley who supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. “If a member leans far to one side of the political spectrum,” it will hurt him politically, he said.

“It boils down to this: If the entire country voted with California’s primary system, the chances of an immigration bill emerging from the House would be much, much greater,” said David Wasserman, a House analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The reason is that 10 of CA’s Republican House members support a path to citizenship or are reportedly open to immigration reform.

I have argued, with only modest confidence, that the single institutional change most likely to make a dent in political polarization would be changing the structure of primary elections.  For a video, see here; for a fuller academic treatment, see here.  I do not think the “Top-Two” structure is the ideal way to change primary elections, but it generally moves in the right direction.  As I discuss at the links, there are related, but in view better, ways of reforming primary elections with similar objectives in mind.

Here is a citation to the WSJ piece: Meckler, Laura. “U.S. News: New Primary Colors Debate in California.” Wall Street JournalAug 24 2013. ProQuest. Web. 26 Aug. 2013 .

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