As I pored over the results from last Tuesday’s primary election and read the analysis of both conservative and liberal media, I noticed they were all essentially declaring the same victor. As Mark Preston wrote in his article “Open season on political incumbents” for CNN, the results of Tuesday’s primary races seemed to assert a “common thread of anti-establishment sentiment.”
It’s important to remember that in primaries, it’s often the case that people can only vote for the candidate running under the party they are affiliated with. Democrats can vote for Democratic candidates and Republicans for Republicans. People have claimed this method allows the candidate from each party who goes forward in general or run-off elections to be the candidate who most accurately represents the ideology of the party as a whole.
Though the arguments for and against open and closed primaries are vast and complicated, essentially because they rely on a certain amount of speculation on the ways voters think, the more substantial argument against the open primary is that if Republicans were permitted to vote for the Democratic candidate to proceed in the general election, they might choose someone who they believe would be easily defeated by the opposing party, and thus render illegitimate the Democratic primary. And Democrats might do the same to the Republicans.
Prop 14, which is on the ballot for the June 8 primary election in California, could change this tradition. It proposes California change its primary election system from a closed primary to an open primary.
I join my voice with the writer of Stanford editorial “California should switch to open primary elections,” who argues, “In a political climate that is increasingly polarized by party, opening up the vote would allow voters to see the candidates on a spectrum and break down the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that pervades the current closed system.”
When I think about the problems facing this country with regard to political discourse, I think that it really boils down to a lack of reverence for “facts.” Indeed, there are times when I dwindle into a postmodern subjectivity and wonder whether facts really exist in the context of politics.
The conclusion I have come to is that the only way to navigate the American political culture and to participate in its discourse in any meaningful way is to disregard ideology. Ideological leaders are bound to mislead people at some point along the way, simply because there comes a point at which elections matter above all else. As Jonathan Alter writes in his article “The Jackass Reduction Plan: Open Primaries are Step 1” in Newsweek, “We live in a centrist country with a polarized Congress. Bipartisanship will always be a mirage as long as politicians’ biggest fear is a primary challenge.”
Politicians and pundits want to keep their jobs. The way they keep their jobs is to convince the public the methods by which they are running the program or supporting those methods — whether Democrats or Republicans — is the only viable way to do it. If voters were able to consider both candidates, irrespective of political affiliation and who is offered on their ballots, I think it would force them to consider ideas outside of their personal ideologies. In this way, Prop 14 could have a positive impact in the process of politics and in the quality of political discourse in America.
Ideology is really the culprit here. I always try to have a logical foundation for what I believe. When I started my column two years ago, I really struggled with the title, ultimately resting on labeling myself a liberal only because I decided the majority of my writing would be defending my fiscal beliefs — which are liberal-leaning. But when I hear things on the news, I always have to have a rationale for rejecting or affirming it. And that’s where I’m headed with my argument in support of Prop 14.
It may be a high-minded thought—a simple expansion in the candidates offered to us in primaries would expand the process by which people make decisions in voting. But there’s really no greater “anti-establishment sentiment” than to knock down the ideologies that govern our decisions and identities within the political culture.
Stephanie England is an English senior and Mustang Daily political columnist.