Voter Apathy

By Christopher Cadelago
ccadelago@sacbee.com
11/04/2014 12:07 AM

California voter turnout will likely sink to just 46 percent on Tuesday, a new record for apathy in a statewide general election, according to Field Poll estimates.

The absence of competitive statewide contests combined with a dearth of compelling ballot propositions should produce the least attended general election in the state’s modern era, replacing the previous low of 50.6 percent in 2002, when incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis held off Republican Bill Simon.

“It’s going to be a record low, and by quite some margin,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “This is really a sad news story for the state.”

Released on Monday, the survey anticipates 8.2 million of the state’s nearly 18 million registered voters will cast a ballot. That means less than 34 percent of the state’s 24.3 million adults who are eligible to register will cast ballots, again demonstrating that Californians are even less engaged in nonpresidential elections.

Field estimates the voters this fall will generally be older, less diverse and more conservative. A healthy majority, 60 percent, will cast their vote using a mail ballot, up from 51.2 percent in the presidential election of 2012.

The top-of-the-ticket contest this fall is the re-election effort of Gov. Jerry Brown, the 76-year-old Democrat seeking an unprecedented fourth term against underfunded Republican challenger Neel Kashkari. Brown has maintained double-digit poll leads throughout the year.

Voters will also decide a $7.5 billion water bond in Proposition 1 and a separate effort to strengthen the state’s rainy-day fund in Proposition 2. Other ballot offerings center on regulating health insurance rates (Proposition 45), raising the limit in medical malpractice cases and testing doctors for drugs and alcohol (Proposition 46), reducing certain crimes to misdemeanors from felonies (Proposition 47) and a referendum on two tribal gaming compacts brokered by Brown (Proposition 48).

While ballot measures have inspired voters in the past – tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978, for instance – the “things that would normally drive turnout (are) just not there” now, said Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Linda Vasquez, 72, of Sacramento said her general lack of interest in the state Capitol and beyond drove her decision to not register. Vasquez, who said she raised five children and has 17 grandchildren to occupy her energy, said her only concern related to the ballot was Brown’s plan to construct twin water-diverting tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. “I’m against (sending) our water to L.A.” she said.

Asked why that wasn’t reason to register and vote, Vasquez said, “I have never really been into it.”

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