Sippel, who is majoring in political science and history, believes it is important to have a clear understanding of the potential reform of the top-two primary system. His undergraduate research is aimed at providing the public with a better understanding of the proposed system.

“In a top-two primary, all candidates, irrespective of party, are placed on the same primary ballot, and the two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election,” explained Sippel.

As states across the country, including South Dakota, explore the potential reform of the top-two primary system, Sippel's research journey analyzed the impact the top-two primary system has on electoral competition in California.

"Advocates of the system have argued that it increases the competitiveness of general election contests," said Sippel. "My research is intended to test that claim through the use of statistical analysis, specifically, multiple regression models. An interesting note about my research’s relevance to South Dakota is that there is an initiative petition currently circulating that would implement the top-two primary system in the state.”

While completing his research, Sippel compared the results of elections to the U.S. House of  Representatives held in California during the decades before and after the reform. Variables such as the number of candidates running in primary elections, the margin of victory in general elections, and each party’s vote share were compared in order to determine whether or not electoral competition has increased as a result of the top-two primary. 

His study concluded the claim that the implementation of the top-two primary in California would increase electoral competition is largely unsupported, with every variable measured indicating that it has decreased electoral competition. 

Sippel takes pride in his research and said he most thankful for the skills he has developed in the process, specifically his experience in learning more about statistical analysis. 

The 2024 Undergraduate Research Excellence Award recipient began his research journey in November of 2022 after he developed an interest in electoral reform and a conversation with David Earnest, Ph.D., the Odeen-Swanson Distinguished Professor and chair of the political science department.

“Dr. Earnest has been the most impactful professor for me,” said Sippel. “When I approached him about doing research, he guided me through the process and taught me things that I would have never been able to learn on my own. Beyond research, he’s been a great adviser for me and has helped me find internships.”

Sippel presented his research findings at USD’s IdeaFest in April of 2023. 

In addition to his research, Sippel is actively involved with the SOUND of USD, serving as an undergraduate assistant and performing in the pep band and the concert band. 

Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, Sippel plans on attending the USD Knudson School of Law. He aspires to become a legislative attorney and work for the South Dakota Research Council. 

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