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Press Release · January 16, 2008

Golden State Not So Blue: Independent Vote Counts, If They Turn Out

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 16, 2008 — Because its voter registration statistics favor the Democratic party (42.7%) over the Republican party (33.6%), California is clearly a “blue state” on the presidential election map. But, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California, with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the ideological and demographic chasm dividing California’s 6.6 million registered Democrats from its 5.2 million registered Republicans makes the independent vote critical.

The report, California’s Post-Partisan Future, shows that as the partisan divide has deepened, the trend toward independent, or decline-to-state, voter registration has grown. Since October 2000, the number of independents in California has increased from 2.3 million to 3 million, while the combined number of Democratic and Republican voters has shrunk from 12.6 million to 11.8 million. If current registration trends continue, there will be more independents than either Republicans or Democrats by 2025.

How might these trends play out in the February 5th primary? Obviously, that will depend on how many independents turn out to vote and which way they jump.

“Because neither party has majority status in California, the support of the almost one in five independents in the electorate has become critical for victory in a general election,” says author Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But, historically, they have been less likely to participate in primaries, which draw upon the party faithful.” Clearly, party rules that permit independents to vote in the Democratic but not in the GOP primary are among factors that could affect independent—and thus total—voter turnout in the February 2008 primary.

Another factor is independents’ ideological bent—or lack thereof. As the report shows, two in three Republicans describe themselves as conservatives, while only one in four place themselves in the political middle. Just over half of Democrats self-identify as liberals, while only three in 10 identify with the political middle. In contrast, most independents describe themselves as middle-of-the-road (39%), with the remainder falling equally on the liberal (31%) and the conservative (30%) sides of the ideological spectrum. Thus, large numbers of independents are not driven to the polls to express partisan preferences, rendering voter turnout, and the likely choice of candidate among independents, difficult to predict.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and 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. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.