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Press Release · September 13, 2006

CA 2025: What If California’s Nonvoters… Voted?

Political Realities, Policies Could Take 180 Degree Turn; Major Socioeconomic, Racial, Opinion Gap Between Voters, Nonvoters

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 13, 2006 — If California’s nonvoting adult population made their voices heard at the ballot box, much of the political status quo could change—dramatically. A report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, looks at the state’s electorate from 1990 through May 2006 and paints a provocative picture of the gulf in political preferences between the state’s voters and the majority of its adult population.

On issues ranging from Proposition 13, to raising taxes, to imposing limits on government, the eight million Californians expected to vote in this November’s election have a much different view of the political world than their twelve million nonvoting counterparts (seven million of whom are eligible to vote). There could be some radically different outcomes if these nonvoters participated in state elections:

  • California could have bigger government and higher taxes: A large majority of nonvoters prefer higher taxes with more services to lower taxes with fewer services (66% to 26%). In contrast, voters are split, with only slightly more preferring the option of higher taxes with more services (49% to 44%).
  • Proposition 13 could be overhauled. By a large margin, nonvoters think Proposition 13 has been a bad thing rather than a good thing (47% to 29%)—but by an even larger margin (56% to 33%), likely voters think Proposition 13 has been a good thing.
  • Odds on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection could change considerably. In May 2006, he received much lower marks from nonvoters (61% disapprove, 21% approve) than from likely voters (48% disapprove, 42% approve).
  • It could be a lot easier to meet the two-thirds requirement for passing local special taxes. For example, 76 percent of nonvoters would support a bond for local school construction, compared to barely two-thirds of likely voters.

“Certain political views and issues that are considered immutable today are that way largely because of who is not voting,” says the report’s author, PPIC research director Mark Baldassare. “But how much the status quo might change depends critically on whether new voters’ attitudes and preferences would change if they became voters — in other words, does participating in the democratic process change attitudes, or is there simply a difference in kind between voters and nonvoters?”

The study, California’s Exclusive Electorate, suggests that the wide divergence in opinion among the state’s residents may be partly explained by the large racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences between voters and nonvoters. Based on thousands of interviews, the study finds:

  • The majority of likely voters are age 45 and older (62%), have household incomes of $60,000 or more (56%), and have college degrees (53%). In contrast, a vast majority of nonvoters are younger than age 45 (76%), and far fewer have household incomes of $60,000 or more (18%) or have college degrees (17%).
  • Although no racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority in California, whites comprise 70 percent of likely voters, Latinos 14 percent, blacks 6 percent, and Asians 5 percent.
  • Although one in three adults in California today is foreign born, 90 percent of likely voters are native born.
  • A vast majority of likely voters (77%) are homeowners; on the other hand, 66 percent of nonvoters are renters.

“If the trends in voting continue, we face the prospect of an electorate making policy choices that neglect the realities and problems facing large segments of California society,” says Baldassare.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.