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Polling & Research

Open Seat Candidate Research – April 2024

Published on May 13, 2024

As a non-profit focused on convening pragmatic Members of Congress, Center Forward and American voters benefit from an understanding of what makes legislators productive and/or pragmatic. By studying Republican and Democratic candidates in open-seat primaries, we can better analyze philosophies about governing before individuals enter Congress.

The initial objective of this study was to research the feasibility of identifying the most pragmatic candidates for open seats in Congress, irrespective of their party affiliations. Given the increasing polarization within the political landscape, the aim was to explore whether there were discernible patterns or indicators as to what would make a candidate a more effective legislator.

Upon analysis, a significant portion of messaging employed by both Republican and Democratic candidates exhibited notable consistency. With a few exceptions, the study revealed a lack of clear indicators for identifying the most pragmatic candidate at this point in the election process. This ambiguity appears to stem from candidates on either side endeavoring to cater to their respective bases.

Furthermore, the research underscored the contextual nature of electoral politics, often contingent upon the environment and the specific opponent in each race. Consequently, the strategies and messaging employed by candidates during the pre-primary stage of the race are not necessarily reflective of how candidates may govern post election. The influence of redistricting also emerged as a significant factor, exacerbating the partisan nature of districts and limiting the ability of serious centrist contenders to emerge from both parties.

This research highlights the complexities inherent in identifying pragmatic candidates for open seats in Congress as candidates head into their primaries in hyper-partisan districts. The prevailing political dynamics, coupled with the effects of years of gerrymandering by both parties, posed significant challenges. However, as candidates emerge from their primaries, it is likely a nuanced understanding of the political landscape of each district, indicators of what will make a candidate an effective legislator will become more evident.