Sexy Story, That Youth Carried Prop. 30, is a Myth


We have no trouble accepting the notion that lower-income voters helped Gov. Jerry Brown win Prop. 30, just as the Edison Research exit poll found, with those making less than $50,000 voting 58-42% in favor, those making $50,000 to $100,000 voting 53-47% and those making more than $1000,000 split 50-50%.

This makes sense. In fact, we suggested before the election that lower-income voters might well be key to Prop. 30’s success.

But there’s a popular myth now in circulation – a logical conclusion from the exit polls – that says young voters were the key to Brown’s victory.

Surely, Gov. Gandalf’s outreach to college students and parents with young children were important factors in Prop. 30’s success. But the notion that voters aged 18-29 constituted 28% of the electorate defies rationality.

And getting this right is important because a lot of future mistakes will be made if campaigns and candidates believe it’s true.

It’s entirely believable that two-thirds of younger voters supported Prop. 30. But this cohort of voters comprises 18% of all registered voters and most analysts expect they made up about 15% of the likely voter total. But even if you grant there was a huge upsurge of younger voters – say 18% of those who cast ballots – that’s a far cry from 28%.

“I certainly believe that the story line of this election is the power of ethnic voters, and that younger voters turned out in high numbers,” Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll told KQED. “It has to do with the governor and online registration. … But I can’t believe the 27% [the initial exit poll percentage]. That’s a huge number. To move the needle one full percentage point is a big thing — to move it seven or eight points is beyond credibility.”

Said Jim Moore, one of the pollsters Jerry Brown relied on:

“Unfortunately we won’t know what the actual structure of the electorate is for two to three months. But I’m 100% certain that the 18-29 year-olds are not 28% of voters: it’s more like 15% tops.

“I suspect the source of the error is that Edison Research experts weighted the data based on state census numbers rather than registration figures or likely voter which they probably didn’t have access to,” Moore said.

It’s a sexy story – that the 74-year-old governor fired up the kids and carried the day. Unfortunately, it’s likely not true.

Instead, Moore’s tracking found, Brown won by pulling together seven in 10 Democrats and slightly more than half the independents so that winning only one in four Republicans didn’t tank the measure. Likewise, Brown corralled three-fourths of the liberals and more than half the moderates, so that winning fewer than a third of the conservatives wasn’t deadly. Oh, and 54% of women, compared to just 45% of men and more than six in 10 non-white voters.

Whether white voters dropped below 60% of the total electorate is also doubtful. Which is not to say the votes of Latinos, Asians and blacks were not crucial to Prop. 30’s passage: they were. But before misperceptions become accepted truths – like the so-called Bradley Effect in the 1982 governor’s race that never actually happened – analysts might want to wait for some more concrete voter data to surface.

Speaking of myths: let’s dispense with the one that says Barack Obama didn’t win a mandate because the Republicans continue to control the House. It was a landslide for Obama in the electoral college (who also won the popular vote), the Democrats picked up control of seats in the Senate and the Republicans only hold the House because their state-by-state redistricting was so gerrymandered that even though the Democratic candidates for Congress won vastly more votes, the GOP still clings to a majority of seats.

In future posts we’ll discuss the GOP’s problem with Latinos and more.

RIP Carmen Warschaw: California has lost one of its great and graceful participants in democracy and she is fondly remembered by our friend Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.


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There are 3 comments for this post

  1. avatar sactownjoey says:

    Hey, how about looking into something I haven’t seen anyone else take a stab at yet: Prop 31. Bunch of big thinkers, rich guys and a weird billionaire “thinking long” about moving “California forward” and we get a confusing, muddled prop with no visible campaign behind it and it gets trounced. Did they get it on the ballot then decide it sucked so they bailed on it? Where is the big thinking from this group?

  2. avatar Andy says:

    “Unfortunately we won’t know what the actual structure of the electorate is for two to three months.”

    Then why do we need to talk about it now as if it’s a fact the exit polls are wrong? I’ve had enough, “the polls are wrong,” for one cycle.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      Because we and other experts (including now the LA Times/USC post-election survey) believe the exit poll was wrong on this and it’s important to prevent a myth from becoming an accepted truth.

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