I was pleasantly surprised to see NY Senator Chuck Schumer's support for top-two primaries in a recent New York Times op-ed. I agree with his logic; the evidence so far from California, which has adopted this system, is encouraging.
A top two (or "open" or "nonpartisan") primary pits all candidates against one another in a primary election, regardless of party. The top two finishers face each other in the general election. This could be a Republican and a Democrat, or two Democrats, or a Republican and an Independent. (You get the idea.) The important point is that candidates are urged to reach a broad swath of voters in the primary rather than pandering to the most extreme members of either party, as is customary in a traditional primary.
As Schumer explains in the piece, "Primaries poison the health of that system and warp its natural balance, because the vast majority of Americans don’t typically vote in primaries. Instead, it is the 'third of the third' most to the right or most to the left who come out to vote — the 10 percent at each of the two extremes of the political spectrum. Making things worse, in most states, laws prohibit independents — who are not registered with either party and who make up a growing proportion of the electorate — from voting in primaries at all."
Instead, top two primaries force candidates to compete for voters in the middle. California has adopted this mechanism, and the evidence so far suggests it has had a moderating effect not just on the kinds of candidates who win, but also on the behavior of politicians once in office.
We worship innovation every else in life. Why not in politics? The top-two primary is not just fancy political theory; it is an idea that has already been implemented in some states and ought to be tried in many others. If the primaries play a role in polarizing politics, then let's fix the primaries.