As Election Day approached this fall, it was reasonable to ask not only who would likely vote Tues., but who has been voting for most of the last month.
That’s because mail ballots went out weeks ago, while electronic voting centers in some counties have also been open for weeks.
Those procedural changes, adopted in as-yet-unproven hopes of increasing voter turnout, don’t change the fundamental question of who will actually decide the many ballot proposition questions and other races before voters this fall.
The answer has not changed much in decades: The electorate will be whiter, older and wealthier than the overall populace of California. That means it may be slightly more conservative than the general population might like, which could make some outcomes surprising.
Here are some findings from a thorough survey of registered voters by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California: Almost eight out of 10 eligible Californians were already registered to vote six weeks before registration closed Oct. 22. Of the 19 million registered voters, 44.4 percent were Democrats, up slightly from the last mid-term election in 2014. Another 25.1 percent were Republicans, but the GOP was surpassed by voters who declined to state a party preference, now accounting for 25.5 percent of the electorate.
This represents a small gain for Democrats and a significant (more than 3 percent) loss for Republicans, possibly one result of the extreme unpopularity of President Trump in California.
With no-party-preference voters, the PPIC found, Democrats have an edge even larger than their 19 percent lead among voters declaring for the major parties. Fully 47 percent of those self-defined independents leaned toward voting Democratic, while only 18 percent say they usually prefer Republicans.
But there are large parts of the state where those numbers don’t reflect reality. Democrats tend to be concentrated in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area, homes to 56 percent of registered Democrats, while 63 percent of Republicans live in Orange or San Diego counties and the Central Valley.
This goes far toward explaining why Republicans fare much better in congressional and legislative races in those areas, while getting almost no seats elsewhere.
The statewide distribution of likely voters, defined as people with a history of voting often or saying they are determined to vote this time, pretty much follows party registration. J
ust short of half of all registered voters live in the two areas most dominated by Democrats, while 43 percent of likely voters reside in the Orange-San Diego county, Central Valley and Inland Empire regions.
The PPIC also found that the while millennials (aged 22-37), generation Xers (aged 38-53) and baby boomers (ages 54-72) account for 90 percent of California voters, the more senior so-called “silent generation’ (ages 73 and up) votes in the highest numbers, proportionately. Fully 88 percent of the oldest age grouping surveyed were registered to vote, while just 60 percent of millennials signed up. But baby boomers, with 39 percent of the state’s likely voters, will cast more ballots than any other age group. Put them together with their seniors, who make up 13 percent of likely voters, and more than half of all ballots will be cast by folks aged 54 and above.
That’s far higher than the average Californian’s age, 35.4. The differential of almost 20 percent between average ages of citizens and voters is the highest ever.
All these numbers help make some contests and campaigns unpredictable. But they tend to favor, for example, proponents of Proposition 6, which would repeal last year’s gasoline tax increase, as those on fixed incomes – a high percentage of the “silent generation” and some baby boomers – can be expected to favor repeal. The numbers also may portend a weak performance by state Sen. Kevin de Leon in his all-Democrat contest with incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who at 85 may not look as old to many baby boomers and “silents” as de Leon would hope.
But those same numbers won’t do much to help any Republican seeking statewide or legislative office.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.