Distrust part of independent voters’ makeup

A Californian casts a ballot. (Photo: Vepar5 via Shutterstock)

Skeptical, younger, grumpy and suspicious – that about sums up California’s independent voters.

Distrustful of institutions, disenchanted with government and leery of the major political parties, the reach of the independent voter is widening, according to the head of a top research institution.

“They tend to be young, highly educated, male more than female,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, which regularly surveys California’s political mood.

During the past 16 years, voters who decline to state a party preference have doubled, from 12.7 percent in 1998 to 23.3 percent in 2014.

One out of every two independent voters are college educated, compared with about 41 percent for Democrats and 32 percent for Republicans. About 55 percent are male, 45 percent female.

“Some of them are people who left the party, or new voters who don’t see a reason to belong to a party,” he added. “I wouldn’t call them infrequent voters, but they don’t necessarily think they have to vote in every election,” Baldassare told a Capitol hearing of the Little Hoover Commission, adding that they are “distrustful not only of government, but of institutions.”

During the past 16 years, voters who decline to state a party preference have doubled, from 12.7 percent in 1998 to 23.3 percent in 2014, according to the final state registration report. Of those who do declare a party affiliation, about 43.3 percent identified themselves as Democrats, and 28.1 percent as Republicans. Just over 5 percent described themselves as members of other political parties.

Currently, about 17.8 million people are registered to vote in California, about 73.3 percent of the total number of eligible voters.

Independent voters typically are harder to define and their electoral conduct harder to predict than those with party affiliations. “Moderation” generally describes them, and “they lean a little more to the Democratic side than to the Republican side,” while they are “fiscally conservative, socially liberal, environmentally liberal,” Baldassare said.

Other issues are at work, apart from voters’ disenchantment with political parties. Ethnic and age considerations also play a role.

Some 14 million Latinos live in California, or about 38 percent of the state’s entire population. But only about half — 17 percent – are likely to vote. Asians, which account for 14 percent of the population, represent about 11 percent of California’s likely voters, while Blacks represent some 6 percent of likely voters – the same percentage of Blacks in the overall population. The figures were contained in an earlier PPIC report.

Democratic likely voters are more likely to be women (58%) than men (42%), while independents are more likelyto be men (55%) than women (45%). Republicans are closely divided 51% men, 49% women, according to an August 2014 PPIC report.In the November 2014 elections, a little better than four out of every 10 registered voters actually cast ballots, a record low turnout for a general election in California dating back to 1912. Only special elections, which decide specific issues such as tax hikes, have had lower turnouts.

Baldassare’s comments came at a commission hearing examining the way Californians interact with their government.

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