State demographic shift fuels voters’ blue streak

This wasn’t your father’s electorate, much less your grandfather’s.

Even as California’s white population declined sharply in the last generation to well below 50 percent, middle-age white homeowners still dominated California’s elections. And this widening gap between voters and the overall population contributed to chronic political gridlock.

But last week’s election saw the emergence of a much different demographic profile that, if it continues, permanently changes assumptions about our politics.

California’s new electorate, as seen in exit polling data, is multiracial, younger, more liberal, not very religious and less likely to be married with children.

The Field Poll, California’s most venerable survey, had calculated in its last pre-election poll that voters would be more than 70 percent white and mostly 50-plus years old — just about what it’s been in recent elections.

But an exit poll conducted for a consortium of news organizations found voters to be just 54 percent white and just 36 percent 50 years  old or older.

A late-blooming surge of voter registrations that was largely young and Democratic hinted at the Election Day shift. It happened so late and so suddenly, thanks to a new Internet registration system, that pollsters could not adjust their survey samples.

Among its other effects, the registration surge dropped the Republican share to below 30 percent for the first time in the state’s history — a decline also reflected in the election, in which just 28 percent of those casting ballots were self-described Republicans, about as many as saw themselves as independents.

The result was larger-than-expected Democratic victories in key legislative and congressional races and in ballot measure contests, including passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure.

Brown had campaigned extensively on college campuses, warning students of tuition increases and other impacts should the measure fail, and it fueled the registration drive.

Were this year’s new voters to continue their political participation, they would, it appears, dye California’s politics an even deeper and more permanent shade of blue.

But voter turnout in nonpresidential elections is usually much lower, and younger voters, especially nonwhites, have not had high participation levels in past years.

Thus, the intensity of what happened in California this year may fade in future elections, but there’s no doubt that the long reign of older white voters is coming to an end and that voters in future elections will more closely approximate the state’s diverse socio-economic and demographic makeup.

Whatever that trend bodes for the state, it nevertheless is a fascinating and historic phenomenon.

Dan Walters covers state politics for the Sacramento Bee.

Dan WalterselectionOp EdsOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Diners at Teeth, a bar in the Mission District, on July 9, 2021. Teeth began using digital menus based on QR code technology in August. (Ulysses Ortega/The New York Times)
The football stadium at UC Berkeley, on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. George Kliavkoff, a former top executive at MGM Resorts International, took over the conference at the start of the month. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
What’s Ahead for the Pac-12? New commissioner weighs in

‘Every decision we make is up for discussion. There are no sacred cows.’

The sidewalk on Egbert Avenue in the Bayview recently was cluttered with car parts, tires and other junk. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
New surveillance effort aims to crack down on illegal dumping

’We want to make sure we catch people who are trashing our streets’

As the world reeled, tech titans supplied the tools that made life and work possible. Now the companies are awash in money and questions about what it means to win amid so much loss. (Nicolas Ortega/The New York Times)
How tech won the pandemic and now may never lose

By David Streitfeld New York Times In April 2020, with 2,000 Americans… Continue reading

Most Read