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Key Takeaways

California’s young people are the future of the state’s democracy. How do their views differ from the views of older Californians on important political and policy issues? This report documents the current age divide across a range of topics and political predispositions. It considers opinions of issues and candidates, as well as partisanship and ideology, and it places these differences in broader national context and compares how they have changed over time.

  • Young Californians, defined here as 18–34, are much more likely than older Californians to be people of color. This difference holds overall and within each political party.
  • Young Californians are more liberal than older Californians across a range of policy topics, especially on questions of race relations and immigration. The greater racial and ethnic diversity of young Californians does not fully explain these differences.
  • Young Californians are more likely to register as Democratic—or lean Democratic when registered as independents—and self-identify as liberal. While young Republicans and Democrats hold very different opinions, they are still closer on the issues and on opinions of elected officials than are older Republicans and Democrats.
  • In the rest of the country, age differences in political views are very similar to the ones in California; if anything, they are larger outside the state.
  • There is little evidence that Californians of the same generation have become more conservative as they age.

All else being equal, the future of California may be somewhat more liberal and less polarized by party than the California of the present. But this is not just about the future: the gaps between younger and older Californians exist now, and young people are less likely to participate in elections. Given these differences of opinion, more effort should be made to close the participation gap between younger and older Californians to ensure that all perspectives are heard.


Today, California votes solidly Democratic and has developed a reputation for liberalism in the national discourse. But it was not always this way. The state was competitive in the mid-to-late-20th century, leaning somewhat Republican (McGhee 2020). If the state has changed before, it might change again in the future. Can we anticipate what future political change in California might look like?

One approach to such a question is to examine the political views of younger and older Californians. How do young Californians differ from older Californians in their opinions of the issues and of the politics and political system that address those issues? Are differences likely to persist—or will they fade as young people age?

In the latter half of the 20th century, the age gap in politics was not very large. But since about 2006, an age gap has emerged at the national level, with younger people tending to take more liberal and Democratic views (Jacobson 2016). This pattern has generated a great deal of debate about the future of partisan conflict, and whether it augurs some sort of realignment as the younger generations become a larger part of the voting electorate (Cohn 2023).

Though this conversation has been ongoing for some time, the age gap being discussed has never been explored in the California context.

  • Does California have a consistent age gap on issues, ideology, and partisanship?
  • How likely are younger Californians to change their views as they age?
  • Are California’s age gaps larger or smaller than in other states?

California has long had an “exclusive electorate”—a voting public that does not fully represent the population of the state as a whole due to a gap in who turns out to vote (Baldassare et al. 2019). The lower turnout of younger people is an important driver of the phenomenon. Voting-eligible Californians under 35 were 12 percentage points less likely than older Californians to vote in the 2022 election.

This report draws on data from the PPIC Statewide Survey to answer such questions. We look first at the demographics of younger and older Californians. We then examine the perceptions and policy preferences of different age groups across a number of dimensions and break these differences down by race and partisanship. We leverage 20 years of the statewide survey’s history to see if views are changing over time within generations as they age. And we pull from national data in the Cooperative Election Study to compare California’s opinions to those of other states (Dagonel 2021; Kuriwaki 2023).

The Demographic Generation Gap

Younger people in California have a different demographic profile than older people (Figure 1). They are less likely to be white (28% vs. 46%), much less likely to own a home (24% vs. 59%), and much more likely to have an annual income under $60,000.


The demographics of young Californians differ from that of older Californians

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Surveys 2016-2023.

Most of these differences reflect the stages of life: many Californians under 35 will purchase a home eventually, and incomes usually rise as people age. But young Californians have become increasingly diverse over time, and this trend toward greater racial and ethnic diversity will likely have more staying power. Moreover, while younger and older Californians are similar in terms of citizenship and parenthood, rates of citizenship among younger Californians have been climbing while parenthood rates have fallen.

The demographic profiles of Californians within political parties also differ (Figure 2). Similar shares of Democrats and independents are white, and while rates of citizenship, homeownership, and parenthood differ, the gap between ages is about the same on each of these characteristics.


Older Republicans have a different demographic profile than other age-party groups

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Surveys 2016-2023.

By contrast, Republicans often differ in ways that specifically leave older Republicans as outliers. Older Republicans are 21 percentage points (pp) more likely to be white than any other age/party combination, 15pp more likely to be homeowners, and 10pp less likely to have an income under $60,000. Other groups can also be outliers—young Democrats are especially unlikely to be parents, for instance, while independents are much less likely to be citizens (see text box for clarification about citizens and noncitizens)—but older Republicans are more consistently different across a range of characteristics.

Conversely, younger Republicans are more demographically similar to other Californians than to older Republicans across all the metrics we consider. In fact, younger Republicans are closer to at least one non-Republican group in every case except parenthood. (There is no age difference in parenthood among Republicans, while such a difference does occur among both Democrats and independents).

Defining the study’s age groups and categories

Opinions on Policy Issues

Younger people and older people in California often hold different views on policy issues, with young people typically taking the more traditional liberal perspective of support for more government intervention in the economy and greater racial and cultural diversity (Figure 3).

  • A notable gap occurs between young and old on the size of government (11pp), state mandates for housing (14pp), and environmental regulation (10pp)—with younger Californians supporting a larger and more activist state in each case.
  • Even larger differences occur around diversity in California and American society: younger Californians are 15pp more likely to say immigrants are a benefit to the state, and 16pp more likely to say the justice system is biased against African Americans.
  • On the other hand, views between young and old on abortion, gun control, and the fairness of the tax system are just a few percentage points apart.

Though younger Californians are more diverse and people of color often differ from white people on policy questions, the age gaps in Figure 3 are not explained by those racial and ethnic differences. If anything, the age gap tends to grow when race is considered (Figure 4), especially among white Californians. In most cases, however, we cannot be statistically confident that the age gaps among whites are different from the gaps among people of color, despite combining all people of color into one group for greater statistical precision.


Race and ethnicity account for little of the age differences in issue positions

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Surveys 2016-2023.

In Technical Appendix Figure A2 we report Californians who are Latino, Black, and Asian American separately. Age gaps around the above issues are consistently small for Black Californians, while the differences between younger and older Asian American residents often resemble those for white residents. Latino Californians have smaller age gaps around immigration and larger differences on social issues like gun control and abortion.

The partisan divide on these issues is large, but it is also smaller among younger Californians across many topics (Figure 5).

  • On views of whether there is racial bias in the justice system, the gap between Democrats and Republicans is 9pp smaller among younger than older partisans, and smaller still on opinions of whether the tax system is fair (11pp).
  • Gaps also narrow between younger partisans compared to older on how strict gun laws should be (12pp) and on the value of immigrants (14pp).
  • Gaps shrink by 16pp on matters of environmental regulation and state mandates for more housing, indicating that younger partisans are slightly closer together in their views than older partisans.

Young Democrats are slightly closer to older Democrats on issues than are young and older Republicans

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Surveys 2016-2023.

On the size of government, the partisan divide is equally large in both age groups, but both young Democrats and young Republicans are more likely than their partisan counterparts to take the more traditionally liberal perspective. In many cases, older Republicans are outliers who take a more conservative position than other age-party groups.

Broader Political Views

There are important differences between younger and older Californians in broader political predispositions and views of the parties and candidates. Younger Californians are more likely to identify as Democrats (58% vs. 52%; Figure 6)—either because they are registered as Democrats or because they are registered as No Party Preference but lean toward the Democratic party—and younger Californians are more likely to call themselves liberal (42% vs. 30%; Figure 7).


Age gaps around party and ideology can be significant

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Survey 2016-2023.

Conversely, younger Californians are less likely to identify as Republicans (22% vs. 31%) or to call themselves conservative (23% vs. 35%). They are about as likely as older Californians to trust the federal government and to be satisfied with the candidates they are offered, though they are marginally more likely to dislike both parties.


Age gaps around vote choice are larger than feelings about candidates and parties

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Survey 2016-2023.

Consistent with the less-polarized policy views of younger Californians, the partisan gap in presidential and gubernatorial approval has been smaller among younger than older Californians (Figure 8). Young Republicans have been the main source of this difference. Young Republicans were 17pp more approving than older Republicans of Obama and 15pp less approving of Trump and have been 8pp more approving of Biden so far.


Approval of recent presidents and governors is more polarized among older Californians

SOURCE: PPIC Statewide Surveys 2010-2023.

There was no age gap among Democrats in approval of Obama or Trump, but younger Democrats have been significantly less approving of Biden (14pp). Younger Democrats have been less approving than older Democrats of Governors Brown and Newsom, and younger Republicans have been more approving than older Republicans of each.

National Comparison of Age and Views

How do California’s age gaps compare to those in the rest of the country?

Demographically, greater diversity is not unique to California’s young people: a similar age gap occurs with race and ethnicity nationwide, though both older and younger residents in California are more diverse than their peers in other states. Just as in California, young Americans across the country also have lower incomes and are less likely to be homeowners—but as noted before, these gaps will likely close as young people age. In terms of issue positions, age gaps in California are consistently smaller across a range of topics than in the rest of the nation (Figure 9). We do not have strict national comparisons to the issue questions analyzed above, but many similar questions are available from the nationally representative Cooperative Election Study (CES; see Technical Appendix B for full question wording). In the CES, the age gap between young and old is larger across states outside California.

  • In the US outside California, young people are 9pp more likely than older people to say that abortion should always be available, while in California young people are just 2pp more likely to say this.
  • Young people outside California are 21pp more likely than older people outside California to oppose closing the border to immigration. Within California, the same difference is 12pp.
  • The difference between young people and older people is larger outside California than inside California on the question of stepping up EPA enforcement of environmental laws (4pp larger than inside California), increasing spending on police (6pp larger), and preferring higher taxes over spending cuts (9pp larger). Regardless of location, young people are more likely to support EPA enforcement, oppose police spending, and favor higher taxes.

California generally has smaller age gaps around issue positions than the rest of the country

SOURCE: Cooperative Election Study, 2016–2023.

Age gaps in and out of California are far more comparable on broader political opinions such as partisanship, ideology, and vote choice (Figure 10). Young people are more Democratic and liberal in the rest of the country, just as they are in California. In contrast to the PPIC Statewide Survey, the CES finds more support for Democratic presidential and gubernatorial candidates among young people. But like the Statewide Survey, the CES does show lower support for Republican candidates among young Californians, and the CES also suggests this pattern extends to young Americans as a whole.


Young people are more liberal and Democratic both inside and outside California

SOURCE: Cooperative Election Study, 2016–2023.

We showed earlier that partisan differences are smaller among young Californians. Figure 11 shows that young people are less divided by party in the rest of the country as well. The same is true to a more limited degree for ideology and partisan voting (Figure 12): young Democrats and Republicans differ less in their self-identification as liberal or conservative, and in their support for Democrats and Republicans for president or governor. And as with PPIC Statewide Survey analysis, Republicans drive most of this pattern: younger Republicans often take more liberal issue positions than older Republicans, while differences by age are generally smaller among Democrats.


Age gaps on issues by party are very similar in California and other states

SOURCE: Cooperative Election Study, 2016–2023.


Party polarization on broader political opinions is marginally smaller among young people both inside and outside California

SOURCE: Cooperative Election Study, 2016–2023.

The Pace of Future Change

California’s young people are notably different from older Californians across a number of important issues and political predispositions. But the consequences for future politics are not entirely clear. On the one hand, the analysis to this point has compared the youngest Californians to a wide range of other ages; if this younger group has a larger gap with the very oldest Californians, politics might shift faster with the changing of the generational guard. On the other hand, if young people adopt the views of older people as they age, today’s gaps might have little or no bearing on the politics of the future; the young people of today will soon think like their elders anyway.

To explore the possibility of a larger gap with larger age differences, we broke the older age group from our earlier analysis into middle-aged (35–54) and older (55+; see Technical Appendix Figures A3–A7). The youngest Californians still stand out most, while middle-aged and older Californians resemble each other closely across a wide range of opinions. Thus, on most topics, the pace of change in viewpoints as the younger generation replaces older generations will be about the same as suggested by the analysis thus far.

There are a few topics where the oldest Californians are considerably different. Opinions on race and immigration place the oldest Californians far to the right of any other age group. Likewise, the oldest Californians are somewhat more likely to be Republican and to be conservative than are middle-aged Californians (who are in turn much more Republican and conservative than the youngest age group). That does not make middle-aged Californians more liberal or Democratic—instead, they are more likely to consider themselves moderate and independent.

Do Views on Political Issues Change as People Grow Older?

The PPIC Statewide Survey has asked for over 20 years about the size of government, the value of environmental regulations, and whether immigrants are a benefit or a burden. These three questions cover a good mix of topics that tap into broader views about current events. We can use these three questions to track the views of five generations of Californians—the Silent Generation (born 1928–1945), the Baby Boomers (1946–1964), Generation X (1965–1980), Millennials (1981–1996) and Generation Z (born since 1996)—to see if their views have changed consistently as they age.

For Californians, the results suggest that their views have not changed significantly as they have aged (see Technical Appendix Figures A8–A11). Some generations have moved left while others have moved right, but there has been no consistent pattern across generations or issues. If anything, Californians have become somewhat more liberal and somewhat less Republican over the past 20 years of statewide survey data. Furthermore, the differences between generations are generally larger than any changes within each generation over time.

For the nation as a whole, the results are different (see Technical Appendix Figures A12 and A13). Over time, members of all generations except Generation Z have either grown more Republican or less Democratic, or both—significantly so in the case of the Silent Generation. However, the patterns for ideology are more mixed. The Silent Generation has become much more conservative, but Baby Boomers and Generation X have become more conservative and more liberal (and therefore less moderate). Millennials have moved ideological categories with little discernable pattern, and Generation Z (for the limited time they have been in the electorate) have become somewhat more liberal.

The differences between the California and national data may in part reflect migration. The number of people who migrate in and out of the state over a 20-year period is not small, and if Republican (or conservative) Californians have been moving out while Democratic (or liberal) adults are moving in, it could offset any shift in a Republican or conservative direction as people age. It could also simply reflect different political dynamics within California that produce a different pattern of political change as people age. Regardless, it does not support the idea of a clear and consistent shift among Californians toward one party or ideology as a result of the aging process itself.


Young people in California are more liberal and Democratic—both on individual issues and on broader questions of partisanship, ideology, and vote choice—than older Californians. California’s young people are also more diverse than generations before, but that does not wholly explain the difference in perspective. A more important point involves young Republicans: while they are more conservative than Democrats or independents, they are less conservative than older Republicans across a range of topics.

These patterns have two important implications. First, they suggest some kind of change is coming to California politics. As younger Californians become a larger share of the electorate, candidates and parties will have to consider their particular experiences and views. This seems particularly important in cases where younger and older Californians of the same party hold divergent views. Each group has chosen to identify with the same party label, yet they may not agree about what that label means and why it is important to identify that way. It is worth studying what it means to young Democrats, independents, and Republicans when they choose to place themselves in those categories.

Second, these findings further stress the importance of ensuring full voter turnout among the young. Young people historically turn out at much lower rates than older people. While full participation is a worthwhile goal in its own right, the need for it becomes more acute the more the views of any low-turnout group diverge from the views of groups with higher participation. Regardless of whether the age differences identified here persist over time, they exist now. Politics and public policy would likely be different if young Californians voted at rates that matched those of older state residents.

Both implications are especially important for a state like California, where the initiative process plays such an important role. Parties offer bundles of issue positions that force some voters to accept a party that disagrees with them on issues they find less important in order to stand with it on issues they find central. But the initiative process makes it possible to present those issues to voters one at a time, sometimes breaking apart party coalitions and making voter opinions more central to policymaking.

These age gaps are not destiny. Though the positions within California’s generations have been remarkably stable, significant movement has sometimes occurred across all generations in American politics. Such movement has left politics in a different place than generational dynamics alone would predict (Ghitza et al. 2023). Moreover, it is difficult to anticipate the size, timing, or direction of such change. Nationally, shifts like this have favored the Republican party, while in California the changes have mostly benefited Democrats.

But today’s age gaps may tell us something about the direction of the coming change. All else being equal, the politics of California’s future may be somewhat more liberal and also less polarized than today. The parties will have to adjust to this change, either by moving to meet the voters where they are or by understanding the deeper origins of their views and finding a way to communicate existing ideas in a way that speaks to those deeper opinions.


2024 Election Political Landscape Statewide Survey