California’s Top Two Primary: Will It Make a Difference?

Friday, April 25, 2014
1:00pm to 5:00pm
IGS Library, 109 Moses Hall
UC Berkeley

In 2010, California radically changed its electoral system, switching to a nonpartisan structure in which voters are free to vote for any candidate, regardless of party. The two top vote-getters advance from the first round to the second, even if they are members of the same party. Reformers argued that the new system would produce more moderate legislators more open to compromise. Skeptics predicted little change.

What has happened? Have voters changed their behavior? Are candidates running different kinds of campaigns? Is the new system producing a new brand of officeholder?

This conference brings together leading practitioners and distinguished scholars to analyze the changes that California’s electoral reforms have created so far – and the impacts they could have in the future.

1-2:30 p.m. – Panel 1: Research Findings

Scholars present the latest research on the new system of California elections, examining its impacts in the election cycle of 2012 and the potential expectations for 2014 and beyond. 


  • Douglas J. Ahler, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Berkeley
  • Christian Grose, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Southern California
  • Thad Kousser, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego
  • Eric McGhee, Research Fellow, Public Policy Institute of California
  • Andy Sinclair, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, Claremont McKenna College

Chair and Discussant:

  • Betsy Sinclair, Associate Professor of Political Science, Washington University 

2:30-2:45 p.m. – Coffee Break

2:45-4:15 p.m. – Panel 2: Experience from the Field

Political practitioners discuss their experiences working with and examining the top-two system, and the changes they expect to see in the coming years.


  • Ruben Barrales, President/CEO, GROW Elect
  • Julie Griffiths, Partner, GOCO Consulting
  • Katie Merrill, Founder and President, Merrill Strategy Group
  • Ben Tulchin, Founder and President, Tulchin Research 


  • Carla Marinucci, Senior Political Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

4:15-5 p.m. – Keynote

  • David W. Brady, Professor of Political Science and Deputy Director of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

5-6 p.m. – Reception

Post-conference media coverage included articles in NBCBayArea and Calbuzz.

The conference was the subject of a May 6 article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Carla Marinucci.