It’s Election Day, and a near record-high share of eligible voters are registered to vote in the Golden State: more than 80%, or 21.9 million of California’s 26.9 million eligible adults as of October. With many competitive races across the state, who turns out to vote in this midterm election will help to determine which party controls the US Congress.
Likely voters in California lean Democratic: 47% are Democrats, 26% are Republicans, 22% are independents, and 5% are registered with other parties, according to PPIC surveys over this past year. Most independents do tend to lean toward a certain party, with 52% leaning Democratic and 37% leaning Republican.
While an impressive number of Californians have registered to vote, likely voters tend to be older, white, affluent, college educated, and homeowners, in a phenomenon dubbed the exclusive electorate—wherein those who turn out to vote do not reflect the size and diversity of the state’s population. Nonvoters, on the other hand, are more likely to be younger, Latino, lower income, less educated, and renters.
Today, white residents make up 55% of likely voters while comprising under 40% of the California population. In contrast, Latino residents are 22% of likely voters and 35% of the population, Asian-American residents are 13% of likely voters and 16% of the population, and Black residents are 5% of likely voters and 6% of the population. Women and men have near equal influence at the polls, making up similar shares of likely voters at 51% and 49%, respectively.
Although California is considered a Democratic state overall, the political views of Californians vary across broad swaths of the state and within pockets of communities. Republicans represent close to half of voters registered in counties such as Amador (47%) and Calaveras (46%), while counties like Butte and Kern see near equal shares—or about one-third each—among registered Republicans and Democrats.
PPIC has mapped the state’s political geography by evaluating votes cast in recent presidential elections against specific locales, an approach that reveals the nuances of political beliefs around the state. For example, Central Los Angeles is more Democratic than the rest of Los Angeles County, and cities in the far East Bay are less Democratic than the rest of the Bay Area. Northern San Diego County is less Democratic than the rest of the county, while the mid/northern Central Valley is more Democratic than the southern portion.
Over several decades, the face of California has changed, with the population of the state becoming more racially and ethnically diverse—the most recent Census count indicates that the share of white residents has dropped from 40.2% of the population in 2010 to 34.7% in 2020. However, California’s population growth has stagnated within the past 10 years, costing the state one congressional seat. Furthermore, people are leaving California, migrating to other states or moving from one region to another. These and other population shifts determine representation and may begin to alter the political composition of the state.