Voices & Choices

Midterm primaries: Candidates winning without majority support

Midterm primaries: Candidates winning without majority support

This summer, FairVote will be providing analysis as a special guest to Ballotpedia's e-newsletter, "The Heart of the Primaries." The following blog is the first of our contributions. To subscribe, click here.

Halfway through the 2018 primaries, a pattern has emerged: candidates are winning without majority support. The reason? Single-choice plurality elections, in which the candidate with the most votes wins even without earning a majority. Such outcomes are commonplace in primaries outside of Maine (where ranked choice voting avoided two plurality outcomes) and seven states with majority runoffs.

Seventy candidates have won without a majority in primaries for Congress and governor (as of July 16). These winners advanced despite most voters in their primary backing other candidates.

Idaho’s likely new governor Brad Little won the Republican gubernatorial primary with 37 percent of the vote. Tony Campbell won Maryland’s U.S. Senate primary with 29 percent. In Nevada’s 2nd District, Democrat Clint Koble won his House primary with 26 percent of the vote. In New York’s 19th, Antonio Delgado won with 22 percent of the vote.

This trend has larger implications. Of congressional primary winners with less than 50 percent, eleven are in “safe” districts where FairVote projects them to win in November in its Monopoly Politics report. These nominees effectively have won their district without earning a majority of their party vote.

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Photo illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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