CA Democrats Struggle with Voter Turnout Problem

The final results are in for the 2012 primary election and they show a serious Democratic Party turnout problem in California.  While the primary results do not suggest President Obama is in any danger of losing California in November, they do pose serious warming signs for Gov Brown’s tax increase initiative and for labor’s effort to defeat Proposition 32, the union dues check-off measure.

Turnout this June was the lowest for a presidential primary in California history, 5,328,296 voters, just 31 percent of registered voters.  Of those who went to the polls, 2,075,905 voters cast a ballot for President Obama who was unopposed in the Democratic presidential primary (where Democrats and independents could vote).  This is only 39 percent of the turnout, or four points below the Democratic share of the electorate which is 43 percent of registered voters.

On the other hand, the total Republican presidential vote was 1,924,952, or 36 percent of the total, some six points above the GOP’s share of registered voters which has fallen to just 30 percent.

And even more interesting is the fact that Sen. Feinstein, who was one of 24 US Senate candidates, received 2,392,822 votes in her primary, 317,000 more votes than Obama.  Some of this is explained by the fact Feinstein was running in an open primary and so got some Republican votes, but it is also explained in part by the fact that 1,327,439 California voters did not cast a vote for president at all.  That amounts to one out of four of the voters who went to the polls.

Compare these figures to the high turnout February 2008 presidential primary which featured a hot contest between then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Clinton won with 2,608,184 votes to Obama’s 2,186,662 votes.  So in 2008, Obama actually got more votes running against Clinton than he received in 2012 running unopposed.

Looking more closely at the 2012 results, it is apparent that a big part of the Democratic turnout drop-off involved Latino voters, where the turnout was just abysmal.  Heavily Latino Los Angeles County saw a turnout of just 21 percent, ten percent below the statewide average.  This would tend to support the anecdotal evidence that the issues that drove Latino turnout in 2008 and 2010 are not there right now, largely due to the harsh economic conditions that heavily impact blue collar workers.

Neither Obama nor Romney will spend money in California and it is questionable whether either party will mount a huge turnout effort.  Recent polling shows Obama with about a ten to 12 point lead in California and that would seem to be about right given November turnout models.  But that is a far cry from the 24-point Obama margin over John McCain in 2008.

And this bodes badly for the Brown tax initiative because a very heavy Latino and base Democratic turnout is essential for it to pass.  Liberal groups just announced they will spend $1 million on turning out those very voters this fall.  That’s a wise investment; the tax measure will not be a persuasion battle – though millions will be spend on advertising – it will be a turnout battle.  If Brown and his allies do not gin up a lot more enthusiasm than was apparent in June, they are in real trouble in November.

(Tony Quinn is a Political Commentator and Former Legislative Staffer. Originally posted on Fox & Hounds.)