Alaska: An Argument for the Top Two?

Matt Bai has an article about the Alaska election and what is teaches us about the future of American politics. But is his argument convincing?

No slight on Alaska I hope, but to presume that this extremely unique state and even more unique election is “actually telling us something about where American politics is headed” seems pretty far-fetched.

Bai makes a huge inferential leap in the middle of the article: “But chances are that Ms. Murkowski also reeled in some significant bloc of unaffiliated voters, who make up about half the electorate in Alaska” and immediately after that “Something like 230,000 Alaskans appear to have cast ballots in this month’s midterm election, compared with fewer than 146,000 who voted in the Republican and Democratic primaries combined.”

From this he infers:
– Unaffiliated voters are moderate / centrist
– Unaffiliated voters are unhappy with the “extreme” choices that come out of party primaries
– And finally, just what Rick was waiting for, that a “top two” primary alternative will result instead in moderate candidate who
appeal to a “much wider array of voters than just Tea Partiers or liberal activists.”

Historical evidence gives as much support to the notion that, under a top two system, the primary will clog the middle with moderates and a candidate with a highly motivated and dedicated following (like Tea Partiers) would actually be advantaged by the top two system.

Regardless of what differences we may have on the top two, though, using this race as any sort of leading indicator is bizarre. Here we have a sitting Senator with a very famous last name in a very small state running what even she admits is a very poor primary campaign against a candidate funded by a national political movement and endorsed by a celebrity vice presidential candidate. And this really tells us about politics in the lower 48?

Sorry. In this case, Bai had it right in line 1. Alaska is just weird. That coming from a Portlander is quite a compliment.