Capitol Alert

California pollsters fret about future turnout

Mark Baldassare, survey Director for the Public Policy Institute of California, spoke to the Sacramento Press Club in 2010.
Mark Baldassare, survey Director for the Public Policy Institute of California, spoke to the Sacramento Press Club in 2010. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California’s premier public opinion gurus on Wednesday offered some sobering thoughts about possible continued voter apathy in non-presidential elections. But first, an observation about a pair of Democratic statewide officeholders believed to harbor ambitions of even higher office.

At an election post-mortem hosted by the Sacramento Press Club, pollster Mark DiCamillo noted that while Los Angeles is home to 28 percent of the state’s total registered voters, they represented just roughly 20 percent of those who turned out in last week’s election. Meanwhile, the Bay Area, which comprises about 20 percent of the state’s voters, made up 25 percent of those casting ballots in the election.

That’s potentially a good omen for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris, San Francisco natives and contenders to challenge for governor or the U.S. Senate, DiCamillo said. “The Bay Area votes,” he said. “L.A. County, not so much.”

Assessing the culprit of the poor turnout Nov. 4, Public Policy Institute of California President Mark Baldassare suggested there’s more to the explanation than the sleepy top-of-the-ticket race in which Gov. Jerry Brown won reelection by nearly 20 points.

Baldassare said the drop-off in ballot propositions and citizens’ initiatives, which tend to capture widespread public attention, could mark the beginning of a trend with profound implications for voter engagement and policymaking. The downward trend could be further spurred by a pair of state laws that moved initiatives off the primary ballot and made it easier for proponents to amend and withdraw their measures before they go to voters.

“In other words,” Baldassare said, “tinkering with the citizens’ initiative process may unintentionally produce new historic lows in voter turnout.”

As for the next midterm election in 2018, DiCamillo said Brown’s advanced age could cause voters to seek out a younger candidate to replace him.

“Obviously, that’s what seems to be moving onto the horizon,” he said.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago

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