Great – A New Generation of Voters, as Clueless as the Last

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Great! A Whole New Diverse Generation of California Voters… As Misinformed as the Last!

They’re young. They’re hot. They’re ethnic. And they’re the toast of California politics.

They are the new, emerging generation of ethnic voters. And they could change everything.

Except they’re just as woefully misinformed as the last generation.

Sorry to break up the party, but c’mon. Yes, it’s nice to see changes in the electorate that start to resemble the state (emphasize on start, since the California electorate remains far whiter and older than the state as a whole). And it’s nice to see the voting public is more open to government and social progress (gay marriage)  – and less paranoid about tax increases – than the last.

But it’s awfully early for a celebration. What polling we have suggests that the younger generation resembles the old generation of voters in two very important and disturbing ways. First, it doesn’t know the first thing about how California works. And second, despite that ignorance, this rising generation of voters thinks it can solve things.

This is a consequence of a political elite and a media that continue to repeat bogus, old stories about what’s wrong with California. The two biggest bogus stories about the state budget, in particular, are alive and well right now. The first is that we can solve this budget problem if we’re just disciplined enough about spending (that’s the story Jerry Brown is telling). The second is that we can solve this budget problem if we just raise taxes enough (that’s the story the media and Democrats are telling).

Unfortunately, neither story is really true. The budget remains a ratchet, ratcheting down revenues and ratcheting up certain kinds of spending. And it remains full of the whips and chains enacted by previous generations of lawmakers and, yes, voters.

The accurate message this new generation needs to hear is this: “you are on your way to being part of the problem if you don’t wise up. It’s not enough for the younger, more diverse generation to show up and vote. The younger, diverse generation is going to be stuck with the same broken system – indeed, you could be adding to the broken system – unless you set a new course. And that course requires designing a new system – and unplugging many of the rules that have been put in place.”

There’s an opportunity right now for Californians – and the  Democrats they’ve put in power – to begin the work of rebuilding that system. But that requires an accurate understanding of the current situation. And there’s nothing in the polls or the demographic data on the new electorate that suggests the new generation of voters is any better informed about California than the older generations that have preceded it.

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