California statewide election vote totals

All of the offices elected statewide in California now have only two candidates in the November election, due to the “top two” runoff system. However, because the first round is no longer a primary in which various parties can pick nominees for the November ballot, the contests can feature two candidates of the same party or one or more independents instead of candidates of one or the other major party. (This is also true of district contests like US House and state legislative seats.)

Thus I thought I would exploit these features–constant number of candidates, but variable affiliations–to probe how a party’s failure to place a candidate in the top two affects voting. I am not claiming any causality or doing any subtle analysis here. Just blunt comparisons of statewide totals, which are suggestive.

Two contests, including Lt. Governor and US Senator, featured two Democrats. One featured a Democrat and a non-party candidate. One contest features two non-party candidates, because the state constitution mandates that the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) is a non-partisan post. (This is the one office that could be decided in the June first round; it is a straightforward majority-runoff system.)

The bottom data row averages the Democratic and Republican votes across the five races that were Democrat vs. Republican. The right-most data column indicates how the votes cast compare to the governor’s race: a ratio of the vote total in a given race over votes cast for governor. Not surprisingly, governor drew the highest total.

We can see that the average Democrat won just over 5.1 million votes and the average Republican 3.1 million, in contests that had one and only one candidate of each of these two parties. Moreover, all the contests that were D:R straight fights had roughly 98% of the votes of the governor’s race.

On the other hand, if there were two Democrats, the total was under 90% of the governor total (83% for the Lt.Gov and 88.5% for the US Senate). This obviously is partly because many Republican-leaning voters simply skipped the intra-party Democratic contest. (The SPI race, where I believe both candidates were actually Democrats, has a similar ratio.) Nonetheless, that is not the entire story, as the total for the two Democrats in both these races is a lot more than the average single Democrat, at the same time as the leading Democrat did considerably worse than the average single Democrat. In other words, at the same time as Democrats split their own votes across their two candidates, clearly the candidates also picked up some Republican votes. This would be really interesting to investigate on a more granular basis.

Finally, the Insurance Commissioner race is notable. The “no party” candidate in the race is actually a Republican. In fact, he served under that party affiliation in the office before. But candidates choose, before the June first round, what party “preference” to indicate on the ballot (from the approved list), or whether to indicate no party preference. In this contest, the Democrat got far below the average for his party. It could be that there are Democratic-leaning voters who remember Poizner and think he did a good job, although he left the office in 2011, so I have some doubts. Alternatively, it could be that not running under the party label is a good strategy for a Republican in this state. He did not win, but he did get 49.0% of the votes, running around half a million votes ahead of the Republican gubernatorial candidate and around 700k ahead of the average Republican on the statewide ballot. Maybe other candidates of the weaker party in the race will hide their party label in the future, given the current electoral system makes it possible to be one of the top two without a stated party preference.

9 thoughts on “California statewide election vote totals

  1. I don’t think my point affects your main argument one iota, but it should be clarified anyway. The following statement: “candidates choose, before the June first round, what party ‘preference’ to indicate on the ballot (from the approved list), or whether to indicate no party preference” isn’t accurate. Actually, the party preference listed on the ballot is the candidate’s party membership on her voter registration form. And candidates who are registered members of a party cannot choose to have “no party preference” next to their names on the ballot. “No party preference” is California’s jargon for voters who do not register as supporters of any party.

    • Thanks, Bob. You are correct. Of course, that means a candidate can select his or her party preference on the ballot simply by registering with a given party (or none) prior to taking out the candidacy papers. And it reinforces the “approved list” in that this list is itself based on voter registration statistics.

  2. So what we have are races between two registered Democrats, or a two registered independents, or some other combination rather races between a Democrat candidate and a Republican candidate. I think there is some meaning to that distinction. Lots of people can be registered for various reasons, and then never vote for the party. My own mother is thinking of registering for a certain party merely to vote against its incumbent during a coming primary. If she lived in California that could mean she appears to be a candidate OF that party should she ever stand for office.

    I like the general idea of the system. But it has two big flaws. One is that the Top Two are determined during the low turnout primaries. It would be much fairer, to at least me, to have the “primary” in November and then a December runoff if necessary. The second problem is that parties have no control over who bears their standard. I would say: let anyone run, but a party label can only be carried if some sort of party organization can authorize use of that label. Without turning this into a four round system a la Georgia.

    • Precint committee people that comprise every district and county and so forth, now meet and issue endorsement lists and distribute it to voters. Statewide candidates now try to get the party state convention endorsement. There is no indicator on the ballot, but the parties do get to state who they endorse in the Voters Guide that is mailed to every voter in the state.

      https://voterguide.sfelections.org/en/candidate-information

      That link above shows endorsements from parties in San Francisco. The fact is, this top two system has actually strengthened political parties. Bob Richard is right, people thought it would weaken parties but voters now follow party cues, more or less, to make their decision, especially in the first round.

      Washington State has seen the exact same thing, only there there is no party registration so a candidate literally just writes what party they prefer….so outside of Presidential election, there are no more parties in Washington in the legal sense. You will see Prefers Republican, Prefers GOP, Prefers A Good Party, etc. on the ballot up there. That’s why California used it’s partisan registration system to restrict the options for candidates.

      I wouldn’t recommend a system like this anywhere truth be told.

      • JIm writes, ” … this top two system has actually strengthened political parties …” I disagree, and I think most of those who study top two disagree. Party endorsements are indeed printed in each county’s voter information booklet — a very long document that many voters don’t open. That’s less meaningful than the party label printed on the ballot itself, which is all many voters ever see. More important, even when voters are (more or less) well-informed, top two pits candidates of the same party against each other, not just within their own party but in front of the whole electorate. That’s the point.

    • The differences between “top two” and two round systems are very important. “Top two” elections are intrinsically non-partisan. Although the candidates have party labels next to their names on the ballot, the labels do not signify nomination by their parties, or even the permission of their parties to run. A two round system in which parties control the appearance of their candidates on the ballot (whether through state-run primary elections, nominating conventions, or smoke-filled rooms), provides some partial defense against vote splitting. But “top two”, precisely because anybody can run, can lead to second rounds in which both surviving candidates represent a minority party.

      “Top two” also differs in that the second round always happens, even if the first place finisher in the first round got 95% and no other candidate got more than a handful of votes. But this difference is, in my opinion, secondary.

      “Top two” is favored by elites who want (or think they want) to decrease the influence of political parties. That’s generally because the have come to view the existing Democratic and Republican party organizations as outside their control.

      • Reading your description, the big difference seems to be exactly the “the second round always happens, even if the first place finisher in the first round got 95%”; the first difference only seems to be a difference because of the peculiar nature of US party system (where, like I read somewhere, “parties” are more state-sanctioned lines in the vote ballot than “parties” in the European sense) – there is anything that prevents the DSOC, the John Birch Society, the Libertarian Socialist Caucus or the Traditionalist Worker Party of supporting a specific candidate in the first round, and in the second deciding what of the remaining candidates to support (or none of them)? Like political parties do in Europe and Latin America, in the two round elections?

        Of course, and thinking a bit more in the issue, perhaps could be argued that even the primaries system is a kind of two-round electoral system also.

  3. How about adding U.S. House numbers to the mix, per CA SOS as of 5:24 PM on November 12:

    DEM – 5,307,408 (64.0%)
    REP – 2,851,958 (34.4%)
    GRN – 68,901 (0.8%)
    NPP – 65,335 (0.8%)

    Or as of 8:58 PM on November 13:

    DEM – 5,879,684 (64.6%)
    REP – 3,071,715 (33.8%)
    GRN – 77,777 (0.9%)
    NPP – 68,256 (0.8%)

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