Political parties just don’t get it
Democrats are riding high in California these days, holding supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature and every statewide office, from governor down to treasurer.
But while they still enjoy a 14.3 percent registration margin over Republicans, there’s strong evidence they don’t understand the future of the state’s politics any more than the GOP.
That’s clear from the voter registration numbers racked up last fall. The newest figures indicate voters in the 18 to 24 age bracket will increasingly want politicians independent of super-strong party commitments, candidates not slavishly devoted to the “no new taxes” pledges signed by almost all Republicans or the strictly pro-union agenda followed by most Democrats.
Here are some of the numbers, as analyzed in a new UC Davis study:
• Of the 244,049 new California youth registrants in 2012, 63 percent – or 154,054 – signed up online after Internet registration became available in late September.
• Those youth registrations brought voter signups in the age group to fully 14 percent higher than in 2008, when Democrats staged a vaunted “youth campaign.” By contrast, there was only a 2 percent overall registration rise, suggesting younger Californians – and by extension, younger Americans – are not as apathetic as some of their elders have believed.
• Young voters made up 30 percent of all those registering online last fall, and Democrats drew 47.5 percent of them. Youth voters are the only group among whom Democrats draw more than 40 percent, meaning that much of that party’s current advantage lies with new or fairly new voters.
• About 20 percent of youth voters registered with no party preference, roughly equal to the overall voting public. Independents registering last year numbered almost exactly the same as Republicans.
Taken together, these numbers continue two trends: Democrats are registering almost twice as many new voters of all ages as Republicans, showing that the GOP is unable or unwilling to adjust to the social and ideological preferences of an increasing majority of Californians.
But Democrats have no reason to be smug; the longer Californians stay registered voters, the less loyal they are to that party, too.
The handwriting could be on the wall for both major parties, but no one knows what might replace them and the Democrats’ registration numbers among the young mean that if they demonstrate some independence, they can avoid becoming irrelevant.
The tide of independent registrants, now at about 21 percent, also means Republicans have hope if they show they’re willing to change longtime positions on gun control, abortion and taxation.
But party activists have so far been willing to lose consistently rather than bend their principles. This may eventually make the GOP the new Whigs, a once-major party that became insignificant in the 1850s.
But the independents also threaten Democratic discipline, for if they perceive that party’s officeholders as doctrinaire leftists and union toadies, they can easily find other people to back in today’s open primaries and subsequent general elections.