California Demographic Breakdown: Young Voters in California Still a Winnable Group for Republicans?

(The article was co-authored by Matthew Jason.)

This is the third in a series of blog entries regarding specific voter demographics in California based on a merge of all the statewide interviews conducted by the California Office of Public Opinion Strategies going back to the beginning on 2004. This merge includes a total of over 31,000 statewide interviews.

According to CNN Exit Polls, eighty percent (80{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of California voters under age 25 cast their ballot in favor of Barack Obama in 2008. Only eighteen percent (18{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of this younger audience voted for John McCain. We have seen news articles about President Obama’s Blackberry. We have been told over and over by the media that Obama was the “high tech” candidate who made use of the internet like no candidate ever before. Still, winning eighty percent (80{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of any non-partisan demographic group is an amazing feat.

To really make sense of these numbers, the first issue we need to look at is who these young voters are in California. Included in our data merge are interviews with nearly two thousand three hundred voters (2280) in the 18-24 age range, and some of their demographic attributes are a little sobering for Republicans. Fully thirty-six percent (36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of the voters we interviewed in this age range were of the Hispanic/Latino ethnic background, and more of them identified themselves as “liberals” (27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than identified themselves as “conservatives” (20{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

However, a little bit deeper inspection of them reveals a little glimmer of hope. Only forty-percent (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of these younger California voters have made a decision to identify themselves with the Democratic Party by registering as such. Granted, this is significantly more than the twenty-five percent (25{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) who have chosen to register as Republicans in the state, but it is quite telling that nearly thirty percent (29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of these young voters have chosen to register as “Decline To State.” This means these young voters chose to vote Democratic in 2008 but that they have not yet established any firm allegiance to the Democratic Party.


It appears that these young voters are either not engaged with public affairs or that they have a very different impression than others in the state. For whatever reason, it is clear that their opinion does not have any real passion behind it. While all voters in the state over the age of 25 have consistently viewed the direction the state is headed negatively over the last five years, voters under age 25 have rated it somewhat positively (48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} right direction and only 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} percent wrong track). However, of the 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} positive rating, only 10{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} has any intensity behind it (strongly right direction).

We see very similar results when we look at how these young voters rate the job performance of the California State Legislature. Again, voters over the age of 25 have consistently given the state legislature very poor job approval ratings over the last five years (except for a short period of time in 2007), but voters under the age of 25 give the state legislators a positive rating (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve and 33{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove). The significant number here is that only nine percent (9{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of these young voters say they strongly approve of the job being done by their state legislature.

Politics just does not hold a prominent position on the priority list of California’s youngest voters. They appear to be more concerned about their social lives and their careers at this point in their lives. What will it take for candidates and political operatives to catch the attention of these young voters and cause them to focus more deeply on the political arena? Simply put, it will take candidates who can find a way to effectively communicate with them about the issues that hit them where they live, issues that have a real impact on the social lives and careers on which they are currently focused.

Reaching these young voters will not be easy for Republican candidates. It will require them to use on-line communications. It will require them to focus less on social issues like same sex marriage and abortion and more on the economy and jobs. It will require them to think outside the box and come up with messaging that clearly differentiates them from their Democratic counterparts. It will not be easy. However, it can and must be done on a race by race basis if the Republican Party is going to compete for this new generation of voters in the state.

Public Opinion Strategies