Older, Whiter, And Settled Down

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This morning brings the latest in a series of studies that shows how different the people who actually vote in California are from the state's population as a whole. It also shows how different those voters are than the ones who cast ballots 30 years ago.

Those conclusions come courtesy of the nonpartisan Field Poll, whose data points should remind every observer of California politics that you can learn a lot about where we're headed by knowing who's at the wheel.

The most important finding continues to be that the vast majority of people who show up to vote in the state are white (non-Hispanic), at an ever growing disproportionate amount to their presence in the general population. Field estimates that in 1978, California's population was almost 69% Caucasian but its voters were 83% Caucasian. Now, that same group is only 43% of the overall population... but still 65% of the voters.

Not surprisingly, the greatest gains have been made by Hispanics and those of Asian ancestry. And also not surprisingly -- but telling -- is how much more integrated in 2009 is the California Democratic Party (55% Caucasian, 27% Hispanic, 9% African America, 9% Asian/others) than the California Republican Party (79/13/1/7, respectively).

The state's GOP is obviously aware of theier diversity issues. Are they trying to change it? Yes. Is it working? Yes (the party was 93% Caucasian in 1978, compared to 76% of Denmocrats), but apparently not fast enough.

Some of the other data points -- that the Central Valley now accounts for more voters than it did 30 years ago -- are what you'd expect (though worth pointing out that Field says that a slightly larger increase has been seen further south, in the Inland Empire). Voters now are also older and better educated. And a stat that I'm not sure what to make of (though some may try to link it to the bitter fight over marriage rights): 66% of voters are married or living together, up four ticks from 1978. Homebodies vote, it seems.

Then there are tidbits that may help explain both where we are, and where we're headed. Take Field's assessment that 74% of California voters are now homeowners, up eight points from 1978. You'll remember that 1978 just happened to be the year those homeowners shook the political world by ratifying the property tax limitation Proposition 13. One wonders how any new efforts to revise Prop 13 might play with all of these new homeowners. It's not that their own property taxes would necessarily be impacted; but you can bet the politicos assigned to fight any changes to Prop 13 would consider those with a mortgage to be a valuable constituency.

Field's new analysis matches up nicely with some of the findings almost three years ago from their friendly competitors at the Public Policy Institute of California. And this is only part one; tomorrow, Field director Mark DiCamillo promises to give us 'the rest of the story' -- voter attitudes in 1978 on a host of issues compared to voter attitudes in 2009.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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