California’s low voter turnout has two elements: a decline in the voter registration rate relative to other states and a decline in turnout in midterm elections. Each has a different origin in the state’s demographics, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
- Registration rates. California’s Latino and Asian American communities have become eligible to vote at faster rates than their counterparts in other states. At the same time, Latinos and Asian Americans register at lower rates than members of other groups, leading to an overall decline in California’s registration rate compared with states where eligible voting populations are not changing as quickly. The registration problem is especially pronounced among Latinos and Asian Americans more closely connected to the immigrant experience, that is, naturalized citizens and children born in the United States to immigrant parents.
- Turnout. The drop in midterm turnout is largely about age. Young people have been voting at slightly higher rates in presidential elections but at much lower rates in midterms than voters of the same age did two decades ago. The state’s expanding Latino and Asian American populations do not play a role in declining turnout. Once registered, these groups have voted at consistent rates over time.
Despite increases in California’s registration rate and turnout in the 2016 presidential election, broader voting trends have been disappointing, with record low turnout in the 2014 primary and general elections. A PPIC report in 2016 showed that the state’s registration rate has been falling compared with other states. The report also found that turnout among those who are registered has been falling in midterm elections while remaining largely flat in presidential elections.
PPIC’s new report, California’s Missing Voters: Who Is Not Voting and Why, identifies possible causes of these trends in electoral participation. It is based on an analysis of the effects of a wide range of factors, including ethnicity, age, and voter registration history.