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Blog Post · March 3, 2020

Voting Matters to Most Californians, but Many Don’t Show Up

photo - I Voted Sticker

Most Californians see voting as critical to a healthy democracy. In our February Statewide Survey, overwhelming majorities of adults (86%) and likely voters (96%) said voting in the 2020 elections is very important, a view held among those registered (90%) and not registered (76%) to vote.

However, while most hold this view, we know that 85% of California adults are eligible to vote but only 70% are registered. Low political participation is cause for worry in and of itself. If a small electorate does not represent the population—as is the case in California—there is even greater cause for concern.

Today, California’s adult population is 42% white and 35% Latino; the remainder are Asian American (15%), African American (6%), and other (3%). Yet 57% of California likely voters are white—only 20% are Latino, and the balance are Asian American, African American, and other. The percentage flips among nonvoters: 56% are Latino and only 22% are white.

figure - Likely Voters Do Not Represent California’s Diversity

And while a third of adults are foreign born, 83% of Californians who frequently vote in state elections are US born. Among nonvoters, 34% are US born (California Department of Finance 2019).

Differences between likely voters and nonvoters sharpen along age and socioeconomic lines. Frequent California voters are age 45 and older (65%), own their home (64%), have attended (39%) or graduated (41%) college, and have annual household incomes of $60,000 or more (59%). Nonvoters are younger than age 45 (65%) and renters (65%); about one in five are college graduates, and one in four earn $60,000 or more.

The political attitudes of voters and nonvoters also differ markedly and often reflect their socioeconomic conditions. Although the many nonvoters in the state may make their preferences known in public opinion surveys on issues, the views of likely voters prevail at the ballot box, when they decide on important matters that affect all Californians.

For example, single-payer healthcare has been a topic of robust discussion leading into the Democratic primary. In California, a split has emerged between nonvoters and likely voters over the question of whether health care coverage should be the responsibility of the federal government. While most nonvoters (72%) say it is the government’s responsibility, fewer likely voters (55%) hold this view.

figure - Nonvoters View Healthcare as a Government Responsibility

On Election Day, it’s important for all Californians eligible to vote make their voices heard. The state has made participating in elections more seamless than ever—even those not yet registered can take advantage of same-day voter registration at a local polling place. Californians overwhelmingly believe in the importance of elections. Today is the day to act on that belief.


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