What's Up With California?
by juls, Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 09:32:29 AM EST
Think of this as a follow up post to Matt's post on wasted money in CA, why we came close to losing a seat and why Arnold's landslide victory didn't come with coattails.
In the year and a half I have spent out here in California, I have learned a lot of things. One of the biggest lesson is that politics is just bigger here, especially the money. $646,091,654 was hauled in by all campaigns in California this year alone. One person can give $100,000 to governors races. Anyone with $1 million can pay people to gather signatures and get an initiative on the ballot. Once it is up there they can collect unlimited sums to pass it.
Yeah, I know all of this sounds like an endorsement for Prop. 89, but it isn't. That initiative was way before its time and tried to do to much at once. The way to campaign finance reform in California is public financing of elections that does not just rely on corporate taxes to finance it. Reforming the ballot process needs to be dealt with separately. The attempt this year to do both at the same time and make corporations pay the biggest burden allowed way to many people who should be endorsing public financing to work for its defeat. It should help kick off a discussion of the next attempt at reform, but that was not the vehicle. It will take a number of years of coalition building to get it passed.
The other thing I have learned, particularly this year is that the California Democratic Party is pretty ineffective. Here is the Courage Campaign's Rick Jacobs writing over at the insider CA Majority Report.
As Joel Wright put it, the California Democratic Party simply failed. The Party says it attempted about 750,000 contacts. As of the end of October, it had made about 135,000 actual contacts. With 7.1 million registered Democrats, Democratic registration at about 42% and dropping, decline-to-state at about 20% and rising and a headwind of considerable speed at the top of the ticket, we might think that a bit more attention would be given to voter contact and turn out; it was not. And even though the state is hopelessly gerrymandered, what might have happened in a year of a Democratic tsunami had a real turn out machine been at work? Might we have won at least the Doolittle seat in Congress? Might Propositions 86 and 87 have passed?
They had 51 offices across the state and hired organizers. We got little out of it. The CDP is contending that they focused their efforts in LA County, where turnout was 3% higher than 2002. The problem with that is that 2002 was historically pretty low turnout levels. We were looking to reach 1998 numbers and failed miserably.
While our GOTV was bad, the Republicans was even worse. They spent $20 million on a micro targeting special, run by the supposed genius Matthew Dowd. Arnold refused to campaign with the other statewide candidates, but promised them that the big GOTV operation would make up for it and bring them to victory. It didn't.
The effort, Victory '06, cost $20 million. It was a colossal failure. Just take a look at the relative voter turnouts in two important counties for each partisan camp.
In Alameda County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 4 to 1, turnout was 55 percent. In Riverside County, where Republicans enjoy a big advantage in voter registration, turnout was 35 percent.
To be sure, the Riverside turnout percentage will rise after all the late absentee ballots are counted, but this much is clear: Republicans weren't able to turn out their voters.
55 is pretty bad, but man 35 is atrocious. Arnold campaigned for himself. While he won 93% of the his own party that made it to the polls, he did nothing to encourage them to get there in the first place. Yesterday, the major independent pollster laid out what happened for the press. This is from the LAT political blog.
Craptacular Turnout:"Another way that California distinguished itself from the U.S. in this election was voter turnout," DiCamillo said. "While turnout was up nationally, interest was high, here in California we probably set an all-time low for a statewide election in turnout. It's hard to believe that we would have a lower turnout than the [Gray Davis-William Simon gubernatorial] race of four years ago, but it seems that way, all the votes are not yet counted but it will probably be somewhere in the 50% of registered voters as a turnout. We're probably looking at a structural, long-term factor of low turnout. In primary elections we're looking at 1 out of 3 registered voters turning out. In general elections we're looking at about 1 out of 2. I think that's going to carry on for the foreseeable future."
Really Absentee Voters:"A lot of this has to do I think with the changing demographics of California voters," DiCamillo said. "If you look at the two fastest-growing voter registration groups...they're Latinos and nonpartisans. Both of those voting groups are much less frequent voters than older voters, white voters, partisans. In the primary, for example, 89% of all voters were Democrats or Republicans. So even though we have this massive increase in nonpartisan registration, they don't show up at the polls. They're infrequent voters."
So what should have been spent on politics this year? Matt is absolutely right about voter registration and outreach to Latinos. Our problem in California is not that the public does not support progressive values, it is that the voting public does not reflect the demographics of California. The PPIC put out an interesting poll in August that compared the political opinions of voters to non-voters. I am borrowing liberally from Frank Russo's post.
Bond issues such as the affordable housing bond (Prop 1 ) would easily pass. 80% of nonvoters would support it, but fewer (49% according to the PPIC, higher according to other polls) of likely voters favor this bond issue.
California would provide more services and pay higher taxes. Nonvoters prefer higher taxes with more services to lower taxes and fewer services 66% to 26%, but likely voters are in favor only 49 to 44%.
Even Proposition 13, limiting property taxes, might be changed--or at least a dialogue started. Nonvoters think this has been a bad policy by 47 to 29%, but likely voters think it has been good by 56 to 33%.
Odds on the Governor's re-election would also change with nonvoters disapproving of him 61 to 21% as compared with voters approving 48 to 42%.
It would be easier to meet the two-thirds requirement for passing local special taxes including school construction bonds.
There are large racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences between voters and nonvoters that underlie much of the differences in opinions:
The majority of likely voters are age 45 or older (62%), have household incomes of $60,000 or more (56%), and have college degrees (53%). By contrast, the vast majority of nonvoters are younger than age 45 (76%), and only 18% have household incomes of $60,000 or more, and only 17% have college degrees.
Although no racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority of Californians, whites are 70% of likely voters, and Latinos, Blacks and Asians are underrepresented in the voting population.
Although one in three adults in California are foreign born, 90% of likely voters are native born.
A vast majority of likely voters (77%) are homeowners whereas 66% of nonvoters are renters.
The bottom line is that while our party's efforts were bad, the Republicans are even worse. Voters in California are not representative of residents. We need to put together a massive grassroots voter registration drive and GOTV effort. California can lead the way for the rest of the country, but we will not move forward by spending $40 million on progressive ballot initiatives that don't have a shot because we don't have the voters in the first place. There is a lot of potential here. The Republicans have already started moving right. They have no bench behind Arnold. We can ensure Democratic domination for decades, but we have to put in the hard work.