Only half of California adults can be expected to vote in this year’s presidential election, and they are likely to be very different from those who do not vote—in their demographic and economic backgrounds and in their political attitudes. These are among the key findings of a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Likely voters in California tend to be older, white, college-educated, affluent, and homeowners, according to the report, based on analyses of state data and results from the 2015 PPIC Statewide Survey. Likely voters also tend to identify themselves as "haves”—rather than "have nots”—when asked to choose between these two economic categories. Nonvoters tend to be younger, Latino, renters, less affluent, less likely to be college-educated than likely voters—and they generally identify with the have nots.
The economic differences between voters and nonvoters reflect the growing economic divide that has surfaced as one of the most important policy issues this election year. Voters and nonvoters vary noticeably in their attitudes toward the role of government and government spending, as well as their views of elected officials—all of which come into play in an election year.
The disparity between Californians who participate in elections and those who don’t is particularly important in a state that calls on its voters not only to elect representatives but also to make major policy decisions through ballot initiatives.
"The divide between voters and nonvoters appears to be deep, persistent, and difficult to bridge,” said the report’s author, Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. "It will have far-reaching consequences this fall, when issues as important as the minimum wage, school bonds, and the death penalty are likely to be on the ballot.”
The report shows that political participation has failed to keep pace with California’s population growth or its changing demographics. Since 2000, California’s total population has increased by about 16 percent and the percentage of adults of voting age has increased by 22 percent. Yet voter registration has increased by just 10 percent. Today, 82 percent—24.6 million—of California’s adults are eligible to vote, but just 57 percent are registered to do so. In 2000, 63 percent were registered.
California has been a "majority minority” state—one in which no ethnic or racial group constitutes the majority—for more than 15 years. But the state’s elections have yet to make this demographic transition. Today, California’s adult population is 42 percent white and 36 percent Latino, while the remaining 23 percent are Asian (14%), black (6%), and other (3%). Yet 60 percent of California likely voters are white, only 18 percent are Latino, and the balance are Asian, black, and other. While 34 percent of adults are foreign born, 83 percent of Californians who frequently vote are US born.