The numbers are in: We're not voting as much as we used to

July 28, 2010 by Ash Roughani

Did you vote on June 8? Many Californians stayed away from the polls that day.  In fact, that election’s results were decided by less than 1 in 4 eligible voters.  And we want to know why that is.

The Secretary of State recently issued her Statement of Vote for the June 8, 2010 Primary Election.  This report details statistics on voter participation in the election.  Here is the breakdown by county:


In Los Angeles County alone —the state’s most populous county, where more than a quarter of all Californians reside, more than 4 in 5 eligible voters declined to make their voice heard.

It wasn’t always like this.  Here’s a graph showing the decline in non-presidential primary election voting since it peaked in 1978:


No, you’re not reading that incorrectly; over the course of three decades, voter turnout halved, reaching an all-time low in 2008.

There are probably many reasons for this decline, but there’s another issue lurking in the background.  Not only has turnout decreased, but the segment of the population that actually votes no longer reflects the state’s population as a whole.

Moreover, it turns out that the public policy preferences of the voting population are very different from those of most Californians.  Both the Public Policy Institute of California and Field Research Corporation have documented these findings (we encourage you to read more about this phenomenon by visiting their respective websites).

This schism between the electorate and all residents of the state may drive some of the political dysfunction in Sacramento.  After all, elected officials are put into office by voters, not residents.  In other words, when it comes to representation, some officials may represent the preferences of their voters while others may represent the preferences of their district, or even the entire state for that matter.

Back to the original question:  Did you vote on June 8?  Why or why not?  Why do you think Californians don’t vote?  And most importantly, what will it take to increase turnout?

Ash Roughani is a project associate at California Forward.