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Kathryn Murdoch's grand plan to reform electoral politics

James and Kathryn Murdoch
James and Kathryn Murdoch, Sept. 20, 2018. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic

Kathryn Murdoch, the wife of Rupert Murdoch's son James, saw last week's elections as a field test of what she hopes will become a $100 million-plus effort to reform electoral politics in America.

Two things happened last Tuesday that encouraged Murdoch to double down on her efforts.

  1. Candidates her group supported in Virginia primaries earlier this year won their elections.
  2. A ballot measure she supported succeeded in New York City, as it became the biggest city to adopt ranked-choice voting, which lets voters rank their favorite candidates instead of choosing only one. Advocates say this encourages candidates to reach out to a wider section of voters.

The big picture: Murdoch and Unite America, the political reform group to which she's attached, say they are trying to reduce the hyper-partisanship and gridlock that define U.S. politics.

  • They're promoting changes like open primaries, independent redistricting commissions and ranked-choice voting. And they're intervening in primaries to fight off "partisan flamethrowers" and support candidates they view as pragmatists who will back these political reforms.

Why it matters: Murdoch brings a vast net worth and network to these efforts. She saw last week's elections as a small test of what's to come. Some observers, meanwhile, have voiced skepticism that her group's efforts — no matter how well-funded — can do anything more than tinker around the margins of hyper-polarized politics that have existed in America for decades.

  • Tuesday's elections were "a really exciting proof point of our theories," Murdoch told me. "We think that this is going to get stronger and stronger."

As the New York Times reported in a long profile of Murdoch's political efforts, she and her husband James "are claiming their independence from the more conservative arm of the family."