Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California’s nonvoters lean more to the left

Kurtis King opted to vote at a table instead of a booth at a crowded polling station at The Gathering Place in Folsom on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. A new study says that Californians who don’t vote are more liberal than those who cast ballots.
Kurtis King opted to vote at a table instead of a booth at a crowded polling station at The Gathering Place in Folsom on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. A new study says that Californians who don’t vote are more liberal than those who cast ballots. Sacramento Bee file

This year’s elections will once again reflect California’s evolution over the last two decades from having a middle-of-the-road political ambiance to Democratic dominance.

Democrats hold all statewide offices and the vast majority of congressional and legislative seats. Republican voter registration has declined sharply to well under 30 percent.

Moreover, voters have repeatedly displayed their liberal tendencies, particularly on social issues, in ballot measures.

Notwithstanding all of that, the state would be even more liberal – much more – were its voters to reflect its adult population, a new study by the Public Policy Institute of California has found.

It’s not news that the relatively few Californians who vote tend to be whiter, better educated and more affluent than nonvoters – in effect, the upper tier of what has become a sharply segmented society. The characteristic gap has persisted even though the state has undergone a socio-economic and culture metamorphosis.

What’s new in the PPIC report is an analysis of how much the attitudes of voters, as liberal as may be, differ from those who could vote but for one reason or another, don’t participate in the political process.

The number of potentially eligible California voters has increased by 3-plus million since 2000 to 24.6 million, but just 17.3 million are registered to vote, and if history is any guide, about 10 million can be expected to cast ballots in the November presidential election.

Although the state’s adult population is 42 percent white, PPIC calculated, 60 percent of likely voters are white and just 18 percent are Latino, despite the latter’s 36 percent share of the adult population. The numbers are reversed among nonvoters – 60 percent Latino and 22 percent white.

Two-thirds of likely voters are 45 years or older and are homeowners, while two-thirds of nonvoters are under 45 and renters. Income disparities are similar, with most voters having incomes of $60,000 or more but only 20 percent of nonvoters at that income level.

Those characteristic gaps manifest themselves in sharply different views of economic issues, with 70 percent of nonvoters saying government should do more to close disparities between haves and have-nots, but just 51 percent of voters voicing the same sentiments.

Similarly, less than half of likely voters support extending governmental health care coverage to illegal immigrants, while 75 percent of nonvoters support expansion.

Not surprisingly, the divide is starkly evident on other spending issues, most tellingly on a question that dominates this year’s budget negotiations – whether a surge in state revenue should be kept in reserve or used to pay down debt, or social services should be enhanced.

Voters side with Gov. Jerry Brown on building reserves and reducing debt while nonvoters side with the Legislature’s Democrats on restoring social service and health spending.

If voting were to increase as much as Democratic leaders hope, California would likely reflect Bernie Sanders more than Hillary Clinton and Republicans would become a truly endangered species.

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