The Age Gap in California Politics
- The age gap in registration rates and likelihood of voting persists.
Voter registration in California increases sharply with age, ranging from 54% for adults under age 25 to 86% for adults age 65 and older. In our surveys, the distribution of those we consider likely to vote shows an even larger age disparity: 19% of those under age 25 are likely voters compared to 74% of those age 65 and older. This skews the share of likely voters toward older Californians. Adults age 55 and older make up 29% of the adult population, but constitute 44% of those likely to vote. Conversely, those between 18 and 34 make up 33% of the state’s adult population but represent just 18% of likely voters. The shares of middle-aged Californians (ages 35 to 54) in the population (39%) and among likely voters (38%) are similar.
- Younger Californians are more liberal, while older voters are more partisan and conservative.
More than four in 10 across age groups are registered as Democrats. Affiliation with the Republican Party increases with age (21% age 18 to 24, 40% age 65 and older). Democrats (45%) outnumber Republicans (21%) by 24 points among younger voters. Among older voters, 46% are Democrats and 40% Republicans. A third of likely voters under 25 say they are independents (also known as "decline to state” or "no party preference” voters; 26%) or are registered with another party (8%), compared to 14% of those age 65 and older (13% independents, 1% other parties). Young adults are the most likely to say they are politically very liberal or somewhat liberal (43%). Those in the oldest age group are least likely to say so (28%). Conservatism increases with age, with 28% of those under age 25 saying they are very conservative or somewhat conservative, compared to 43% of those age 65 or older. About three in 10 across age groups consider themselves to be politically moderate.
- Older Californians are more interested in politics and express less trust in state government.
About half (51%) of young Californians express little or no interest in politics. Interest in politics increases with age: 14% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they have a great deal of interest in politics, compared to 35% of those 65 years and older. Young adults are the most trusting of the state government, with 36% saying they trust the state government to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. Only 19% of those 65 years and older share this view. In our July survey, the same percentage of young adults as adults 65 and older (40% each) approved of Governor Brown’s job performance. However, young adults were much less likely to disapprove (25% 18–34, 47% 65 and older), and many were unsure (35%). In July, when asked about their presidential election vote, 63% of likely voters age 18 to 34 and 56% of those age 55 to 64 preferred President Obama. Mitt Romney’s highest level of support was among likely voters 65 years and older (50% Romney, 42% Obama).
- An age gap is apparent in household income, education, and homeownership.
Californians in the youngest age group (64%) are much more likely to fall in the lowest category of income (less than $40,000/year), while Californians age 35 to 64 are most likely to fall in the highest category (more than $80,000/year). Among Californians age 25 and older, at least 28% are college graduates. More than six in 10 age 45 and older are homeowners, while 75% of young adults are renters.
- California’s racial/ethnic and immigrant composition varies across age groups.
The distribution of race/ethnicity and immigration status across age groups reflects a rapidly changing social landscape. Latinos outnumber whites in the youngest age group (45% to 26%), while whites outnumber Latinos in the oldest age category (71% to 14%). The share of Asians declines with age. The proportion of blacks is similar across all age groups. Similar proportions of those in the youngest (21%) and oldest (22%) age groups are immigrants, while those in the 35-to-44 age group are most likely to be immigrants (48%).
Sources: Eight PPIC Statewide Surveys, September 2011 to July 2012, including 17,018 adult residents. 2007–2009 American Community Survey. 2010 Census.