It’s Election Day, and voters across the nation are choosing their leaders at a divided and contentious time. Although Californians are divided on many issues today, majorities of voters across party lines say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual this year (October PPIC survey: 72% Democrats, 64% Republicans, 53% independents). This is welcome news after a 2014 statewide election that set a new record for the lowest voter turnout. It will be interesting to see how many Californians will actually follow through and cast their ballots for governor, state constitutional officers, and state legislators.
Who will vote in the California election will be closely watched on election night since a handful of House races may well determine the party in control of the next US Congress. Democrats seem more energized than Republicans in voting for Congress this year (October PPIC survey: extremely/very enthusiastic: 57% Democrats, 40% Republicans, 35% independents). However, we also find an “enthusiasm gap” that favors white, older, and more affluent Californians who tend to be conservative voters. This raises questions about whether there will be a “blue wave” or merely a ripple this year.
In addition to electing their leaders, California voters play an outsize role in policymaking in our state. In another striking area of agreement across party lines, most Californians say that they like the initiative process and feel they make good decisions at the ballot box—despite reservations about the number and complexity of ballot measures. Because of the central role the initiative process plays in California policymaking, voters have a special obligation to weigh in on important choices facing the state. This election, Californians will vote on 11 state propositions, in addition to numerous local measures.
Still, many Californians who are eligible do not vote. We’ve found significant gaps between voters and non-voters in the state. Voters are much more likely to be older, white, and own their homes. They have higher education and income levels. And they are more likely to identify as one of the “haves” than the “have nots.” This means that important policy choices that affect the entire population are determined by voters who do not necessarily reflect the state’s social, political, or economic diversity.
The state has implemented several reforms to ease access to registration and voting, many of them quite recently. The jury is still out on the long-term effects of these efforts, but one thing is sure: voting matters. Elections have the power to change the direction of history.
So on this Election Day, it is critical for all eligible Californians to exercise their right to vote. For anyone in need of last-minute help on ballot choices, solid nonpartisan information is available in the state’s voter guide.
PPIC is keeping a close eye not only on the immediate outcome of the vote, but also on long-term trends and implications. Stay tuned to the PPIC blog for post-election thoughts and analysis of this year’s important midterms.