Opinion

Low turnout waits in the wings

Ventura County voters go to the polls in a California general election. (Photo: Spirit of America)

Last March in a piece, I predicted the November turnout would be lower than 50%, setting a new record low turnout for California.

The June 3 Primary Election turnout was 25.1%, a new record low for a California Primary. Turns out our very low 25.1% was one of the highest in the nation. Only 4,461,346 Californians voted in the June 3rd primary. That was the lowest number since the June 1960 turnout of 4,004,059, when there were only 6.37 million registered voters vs. 17,722,006 now. Timothy Leary told the American youth “…you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Well, those youth are older now and 13.3 million Californians who are registered to vote, dropped out.

Any Democrat this fall in a competitive race that runs a traditional campaign (15 pieces of mail with endorsements) may be shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, not for a TV but for a new job.

I now believe the turnout this November will be closer to 45% than 50%.

In the previous eight gubernatorial primaries (1982-2010) the average turnout was 39.2% and in those eight General Elections the average turnout was 59.0%, an increase on average of 19.8% from the Primary to the General. But that includes the June 1982 primary turnout of 52.7% with contested governor candidates (Bradley vs. Deukmejian) and U.S. Senate (Brown vs. Wilson) with a November turnout of 69.8% and all gubernatorial Primaries and General elections since have had lower turnouts.

In November 1994, there was a turnout of 60.5% — and Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187 drove that turnout. In November 2010 the turnout was 59.6%; both Propositions 30 and 32 were big factors and maybe Meg Whitman spending $180 million scaring more Democrats to vote.

Presidential, governor, some ballot propositions and, on occasion, U.S. Senate races drive up turnouts (in November 1992 with Clinton, Boxer and Feinstein on the ballot the turnout was 75.3%). That’s not like this November with Gov. Jerry Brown vs. what’s his name.

The smallest turnout difference was June 1978, with a turnout of 68.9% and that November, it was up only 1.5% to 70.4%. Proposition 13 was on the June ballot and homeowners voted to save their homes.

Americans generally do not like to vote and they do not vote to reward or thank a politician for doing a good job. They vote for a “Cause.” Any Democrat this fall in a competitive race that runs a traditional campaign (15 pieces of mail with endorsements) may be shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, not for a TV but for a new job.

This Fall, Californians will not be running a 50 “Meter” race, more likely a 45 meter one.

Ed’s Note: Bob Mulholland served as senior adviser to the state Democratic Party for two decades. 


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