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Leaders of the (super) PAC: This Election, Who Are the Heavy Hitters?

Includes interactive maps and charts

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)

The 2012 presidential and congressional elections will cost roughly $5.8 billion, making it the most expensive in U.S. history. That’s according to estimates by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which predicts about a 7 percent increase from 2008′s $5.4 billion price tag. The presidential race, alone, CRP estimates, will cost about $2.5 billion.

$5.8 billion! That’s nearly twice the state of Wyoming’s entire 2012 budget!

The biggest difference in this year’s election is the sharp rise in contributions – and influence – from outside groups, namely Super PACs. Remember that the current races – both presidential and congressional – are the first in which the new, post-Citizens United rules will be in effect. While outside spending groups did exist in previous presidential election cycles, significant legal developments, including the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision – which determined that political spending is a form of protected speech and lifted spending limitations for corporations and unions – have led to a rapid rise in super PACs and other outside spending groups that don’t have to disclose their donors. And that means a deluge of negative campaign ads paid for by organization’s you’ve probably never heard of. Continue reading

Three Awesome Infographics On America’s Abstract Electoral System

Elections aren’t supposed to be super complicated. But they are. And if you feel like you still need a diagram to figure out our electoral process, here are two good ones to get you started (created independently and shared on the site visual.ly). Click on the first one to see it full size.

Who Do We Lock Up? Four Key Characteristics of Cal’s Prison Population

Includes: interactive charts and maps

Who’s actually behind bars in California? Here are four key characteristics of California’s prison population:

Geography

The majority of inmates come from the southern part of the state. A whopping 50,000 – or 34 percent of all prisoners – come from Los Angeles County alone. But the highest incarceration rates are concentrated in poorer counties in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. Leading the charge is Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley, where nearly 1 percent of the entire population is in state prison.

Click on the map below for info on the number of prisoners who come from each county in California, what percent of the prison population each county contributes, and what percent of each county’s total population is in prison.

Source: CDCR 2011 data

Race

The majority of prisoners are non-white. The largest group is Hispanic. But African Americans – who make up less than 7 percent of the general population and almost 30 percent of the prison population – are dramatically more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.

prison stats

Source: Public Policy Institute of California (using 2010 CDCR and 2010 Census data)

 

Age

The prison population is aging. Currently nearly 20 percent of inmates are age 50 and up, about quadruple the rate from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the percent of prisoners under age 25 has steadily dropped.

Source: CDCR 2010 data

Gender

California’s prison population is overwhelmingly male. Men make up nearly 95 percent of all inmates. 30 of the system’s 33 facilities are for men.

Source: CDCR 2010 data

Is California’s Prison Realignment Experiment Working?

Depends whom you ask (real helpful, huh?).

On the one hand, the state has significantly reduced its prison population since realignment went into effect last October. At the end of September 2011, there were 144,456 inmates in the state’s 33 prisons, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (Note: that does not represent California’s total prison population, which also includes prisoners in in-state and out-of-state private facilities, and those in work camps).

California’s 33 prisons are designed to hold about 80,000 prisoners (based on one inmate/cell). So at the start of realignment, the prisons were at about 180% overcapacity. Continue reading

Who Votes in California? (Hint: it’s not the majority)

Includes interactive map of voting rates and party affiliation throughout California
Click each county on the map below for stats on California’s eligible and registered voters, as well as a breakdown of political party affiliation (but keep in mind there’s a big difference between registered and “likely” voters). The darker the shade, the higher the percentage of registered voters.

(Source: California Secretary of State, May 2012 data)

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, called voting “the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.”

But in California – where nearly 24 million adults are eligible to vote – the number of people who actually take advantage of this right is surprisingly small.

Consider these California voting stats (approximated):

                  • 24 million: People who are eligible to vote
                  • 17 million: People registered to vote (about 72% of those who are eligible)
                  • 6 million: “Likely voters” (those who regularly vote)
                  • 5.3 million: The number of votes cast in the June 2012 primary election

Public Policy Institute of California survey also found that California’s “likely voters” are not  representative of the state’s racial and economic diversity. About 65 percent of them are white (even though whites make up only 44 percent of the state’s adult population) and only 17 percent Latino (who make up about one-third of the state’s population). Likely voters are also generally older, more educated, more affluent, and far more likely to own a home than the average Californian. And more than 80 percent were born in the U.S.

For more on how to register to vote and who is eligible, go here.

Why Do So Many Californians Choose NOT to Vote?

Guest post by Jennifer A. Waggoner
President, League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

kristin_a/Flickr

Voting is essential to the democratic process; it allows citizens to participate in shaping the role and scope of government. And it remains one of the most powerful and interactive forms of civic engagement.

In most Democratic nations throughout the world, universal suffrage is a right that’s been fought hard for. And in some democracies, voting among the adult population is actually mandatory.

Yet in America, it’s a right that’s grown strikingly underutilized. Continue reading

Interactive: Counting the Undocumented in California (and the rest of the country)

Includes: interactive maps

(Click on each state for population estimates of the undocumented immigrant community; source: Pew Hispanic Center)

Although the vast majority of immigrants in California came here legally, the state still has by far the largest undocumented immigrant population in the country, many of whom are young. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 350,000 young undocumented immigrants living in California are eligible for deferred deportation and work authorization, as a result of the Obama administration’s recent policy shift, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Continue reading

Who Smokes? The Stats on Lighting Up

Includes: article; infographic; map; poll

credit: lanier67/Flickr

About one in five adults in America smokes. That’s a significant drop from even a decade ago.

In California, which has one of the lowest rates in the country, it’s down to roughly one in eight.

But disparities in smoking rates across economic, racial, educational, and gender lines remain wide. The graphic below – from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - is based on 2010 U.S. smoking data among adults: Continue reading

Prop 29: Should Smoking in California Be More Expensive?

Includes: article, interactive map, radio and video clips

Dr. Jaus/Flickr

That’s the underlying question that Proposition 29 poses to California voters, who go to the polls in June to decide if smokers should pay an extra buck in taxes for a pack of cigarettes.

What would Prop 29 do?

If passed, the measure – called the California Cancer Research Act – would add an additional dollar to a pack of cigs and other tobacco products sold in California (amounting to five more cents/cigarette). It would more than double the current tobacco tax rate – the most dramatic increase in the state’s history.

The estimated $735 million (annually) in new revenue (adjusted for tax revenue lost from the projected decrease in sales) would go toward a special fund administered by an appointed committee to support research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, as well as prevention and enforcement initiatives. None of it would be used for medical treatment. Continue reading