The Non-Election Election

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

What if they called an election and nobody came?  That seems to be the story this November.  Turnout for the June primary, just 25 percent of registered voters, was the lowest in history.  The November turnout will probably not surpass 45 percent, also an historic low.

Many analysts assume that this lower turnout bodes well for Republicans but in fact the significant drop-off between this year’s primary and the comparable non-presidential year primary in 2010 seems to have been among Republican voters.

In the 2010 primary, 45 percent of registered Republicans cast a ballot for governor compared to 32 percent of registered Democrats.  In raw totals, the GOP primary vote nearly equaled the Democratic vote.  This year only 33 percent of Republicans cast a ballot for governor compared to 31 percent of Democrats.  Interestingly, the Democratic raw vote total in 2014, 2,392,000 votes cast for governor, was nearly equal to the Democratic votes cast in vote 2010, 2,395,000.  But the Republican vote fell from 2,377,000 in 2010 to just 1,684,000 in 2014, a drop of 693,000. 

So the historically low 2014 primary turnout was nearly all Republicans not voting.  This is acerbated by the continued collapse of Republican registration, since October 2010, GOP registration has fallen from 31 percent to just 28.2 percent today, and will probably fall more when the final registration figures are released in mid-October.  In raw terms, there are 40,000 more Democrats today than there were in October 2010, but 385,000 fewer Republicans.

So with declining registration and Republican stay at home voters, the results for the GOP in November could be disastrous.  If their own voters do not come out they lose not only the statewide offices by huge margins, but that will carry down ballot candidates to defeat.

Money is the mother’s milk of politics, to quote legendary Assembly Speaker Jess Unruh.  The heart of the Republican problem is that their battered party has been largely abandoned by the donor class; they have a very attractive class of statewide candidates this year, but nobody knows who they are.  And with no money to communicate, voters are hearing no messages from them.

Just consider the governor’s race; this is the quietest race for governor since Republican Gov. Goodwin Knight beat Democrat Richard P.  Graves in 1954.  GOP candidate Neel Kashkari, who has a thoughtful and engaging message, has been reduced to campaigning via radio talk shows because he has no money for the kind of statewide TV buy you need to effectively communicate in California.

So what can Republicans do now barely five weeks until the election?  With what little money they have, they need to talk about things people care about.  There are adequately funded and attractive GOP candidates for congress; and for the legislature where Republicans are trying to break the Democrats supermajority two thirds vote

Republican legislators forced water storage into the water bond; they need to champion the bond issue and remind people we have not built a new major reservoir in this state in half a century while our population has more than doubled.

Millions of lawns are drying up and farmers are starved for water because we did not adequate plan for a drought in a state of 40 million people.  Yet droughts are a common phenomenon in the desert west, and this won’t be the last drought.  People want to hear that we are going to build the dams, roads and infrastructure that we need.

An immediate opportunity is the plastic bag bill.  This legislation, just signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, not only bans single use plastic grocery bags, thus decimating an industry of blue collar inner city Latino workers, but as a sop to the grocery industry it slaps a 10 cent fee on paper grocery bags – that of course are now free.

The bag industry has announced it will try to qualify a referendum against the new law.  That means gathering 500,000 valid signatures in the next 90 days.  Republican candidates up and down the state ought to be the first in line to sign the referendum petitions.  Voters understand simple things like paying more for a free grocery bag.  There is an underlying suspicion that government today exists to make their lives more difficult; well this is a perfect example.

The objective evidence, be it party registration, turnout patterns, or money in the bank suggests this will be an awful year for Republicans in California.  They have five weeks to turn things around.  We will see if they can.

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