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Who Are California’s Independent Voters?

Dean Bonner September 5, 2014

The partisan composition of California’s electorate continues to evolve as an increasing number of voters register as independent or decline-to-state. Today, independents make up 21 percent of the electorate, while Democrats make up 43 percent and Republicans 28 percent. Since 2006, the share of voters registering as independent has increased 2 points, while Republican registration has declined 6 points and Democratic registration has not changed. Looking back further, we see that independent registration has more than doubled since 1994 (10% to 21%), while Democratic registration has declined 6 points and Republican registration is down 9 points.

What do we know about independent voters in California?

Among independents considered likely to vote by the PPIC Statewide Survey, about three in 10 identify themselves as liberal and the same number say they’re conservative. Four in 10 say they are middle-of-the-road. About four in 10 independent likely voters say they lean toward the Democratic Party, while about three in 10 lean toward the Republican Party. Three in 10 say they lean toward neither major party.

Given these party leanings, it may not be surprising that independent likely voters often agree with Democrats on issues that divide voters along party lines. For example, 77 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Republicans are opposed (55% oppose, 41% favor). And 81 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents are in favor of taxing the wealthy, while 68 percent of Republicans are opposed. But on other issues that divide partisans, independents are themselves split. For example, while strong majorities of partisan likely voters fall on each party’s side of the debate over the size of government (Democrats: 63% higher taxes and more services; Republicans: 79% lower taxes and fewer services), independent likely voters are divided (51% lower taxes and fewer services, 44% higher taxes and more services).

No matter where they stand on issues and ideologies, independent likely voters tend to have unfavorable views of political parties. Solid majorities have unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party (59%, 38% favorable) and the Republican Party (73%, 25% favorable), and 41 percent have an unfavorable opinion of both parties.

These weaker ties to the major parties may help explain why independents make up a disproportionate share (30%) of those we consider infrequent voters. Will they turn out this November? In an election year in which only about half of independents (49%) say they are closely following news about gubernatorial candidates, this is an open question for all contenders on the ballot.

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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