A 30-year survey of polling data by the Field Institute shows that both major parties have declined in support over the past three decades, and while the Democrats’ edge over Republicans has decreased, the most important political trend is the substantial growth in the number of independent voters.
Field also reports that while whites now represent less than half the state’s population, they still dominate the electorate, with non-Hispanic whites representing nearly two-thirds of voters. While Latinos have greatly increased their portion of the population – now 37 % – they vote in significantly lower numbers, making up only 21 percent of the electorate.
A must-read for political junkies, the new report provides a wealth of data offering an in-depth and in-detail view of how California’s demographic landscape has changed since 1978, when Jerry Brown last was governor and Proposition 13 won in a landslide. Compiled and analyzed by Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo and survey founder Merv “The Swami” Field, the report collects and collates data from several sources, including the firm’s most recent statewide surveys, including 9,257 registered voters, and its four state polls in 1978, with 4,072 respondents.
Among its many findings, the poll reports that:
-Once-majority whites are now a minority of the population in California – 43 percent compared to 69 percent in 1978 – but still dominate elections, representing 65 percent of the statewide electorate.
-Latinos are California’s fastest growing ethnic group – 37 percent of the current population, compared with 19 percent in 1978 – but their voter participation rate remains relatively low, representing only 21 percent of the overall electorate.
-Democrats have lost their status as a majority party – they now are 45 percent of registered voters compared to 57 percent 30 years ago – while Republicans have become an even smaller minority – 31 percent today versus 34 percent in 1978. At the same time, voters who decline to state a party preference have more than doubled as a portion of the electorate – growing to 20 percent from 8 percent.
Because the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans has narrowed over the period measured – 14 percent from 22 percent – conservatives are likely to point to the report and argue that they are picking up strength in the state. The key question, however, is whether the expanding number of independents is more likely to vote the Democratic position on candidates or issues, or the Republican stance.
The answer to that may become clearer when Field releases the second part of its big poll analysis today, tracing changes in voter attitudes on specific issues over the past three decades.