Sept. 21, 2014

Grounds and Schnur: ‘Jungle’ Primaries May Open Door for Women

The goal behind the “jungle” primary in California was to loosen the grip of political parties on the election process and force candidates to talk to all voters, not just those on the extremes of their own parties.  

The new arrangement allows a voter to cast a ballot for a candidate in each race, regardless of political party. Then the top two vote-getters move on to the general election.  

In some cases, a Democrat will run against a Democrat and a Republican against a Republican come the general election this November.

But we can’t help but wonder how this might affect the number of female candidates winning.  

Might this be the solution to increasing the number of women in public office?

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

Female candidates do not typically enter politics the same way as men. Women are often inspired to run for office because of specific issues in their communities; for example, they want to see better teachers in their kids’ schools.   

And because women don’t typically come from professional networks that are more politically connected, such as business and law, they often do not have the same political networks and therefore are not as likely to be connected with the political party players.  

We think that this new primary process may lessen the importance of the parties, which provide a powerful apparatus that frequently supports the establishment candidate vs. the lesser-known candidate.

The obstacles are even greater for younger women.

Women under age 40 make up less than 1 percent of Congress. A young person of either gender is less likely to have developed relationships with the power brokers in their parties — even qualified young people are told by party leaders to “wait their turn” behind older and less-qualified candidates.

Also, old-boy networks generally tend to be made up of boys. In a top-two primary, candidates are no longer as reliant on the parties and can turn to other, more vibrant community networks for support.

Once again, maybe changing up the primary process will make it easier for outlier candidates — oftentimes the women — to win. While there are many barriers that have led to the dearth of women serving in office, we think that a change to the system may be just the solution to radically alter the makeup of our decision-makers and allow an even more representative democracy to flourish.

Jessica N. Grounds is executive director of Running Start, an organization that supports having more young women run for public office. Dan Schnur is director of the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

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