Analyst: Surge in Younger Voters Failed to Materialize in California Primary

Stickers reading "I Voted!" wait for voters at a polling place at 36 Hoff St. in San Francisco's Mission District.

'I Voted' stickers wait for voters at a polling place at 36 Hoff St. in San Francisco's Mission District. (Katie Brigham/KQED)

Turnout for the California primary, which some expected to be pumped up by a surge in registrations among younger voters, fell short of analysts’ expectations. One major factor in that lower-than-anticipated turnout: For the most part, an analysis of vote-by-mail ballots suggests, those younger voters simply didn’t participate.

Paul Mitchell, vice president of Sacramento-based Political Data Inc., noted Wednesday that people under 35 made up more than half of 2.3 million new voters who registered before the primary, indicating an enthusiasm for the contest. And he says those younger voters told pollsters they would cast ballots.

“But then when they got the ballot with the 34 candidates for Senate, and who’s my congressman, and what’s this ballot proposition, and where do I keep a stamp and all these things … they kind of fell off and they didn’t participate in the same numbers,” Mitchell said.

According to Political Data’s analysis of about 3.1 million ballots returned to county registrars before Tuesday’s vote, voters under 35 made up just 10 percent of those who voted. That group makes up 25 percent of the state’s 17.9 million registered voters.

In contrast, 68 percent of ballots returned came from voters over 55, who make up 41 percent of registered voters.

“The early vote looked a lot like any traditional primary electorate if you just take away that whole surge of registration,” he said. He added that when the vote count is complete, total turnout statewide could range from 40 to 45 percent.

The analysis also suggests a lack of enthusiasm among Republican voters. Secretary of State data show Donald Trump winning the GOP primary with about 75 percent of the vote. However, Mitchell says that is less than past presidential candidates who ran virtually unopposed.

“Traditionally, a Republican unopposed like this would be getting 83 percent of the vote,” he said.

Mitchell said with no GOP candidate in the state’s U.S. Senate race and a potentially polarizing presidential campaign that could drive more minority voters to the polls, the November general election could be a tough one for California Republicans.

Analyst: Surge in Younger Voters Failed to Materialize in California Primary 16 September,2016Katie Orr

  • Ted Maxwell

    Thank you AP!

  • Peter Bernhardt

    Wow, what a slanted and bogus headline. Ms. Orr, rather than offering a simplistic bromide that defies logic, how about you do some genuine journalism and find out why the number of counted votes is so low? There’re plenty of reports coming in via social media indicating voter suppression. And what about all the provisional and mail-in ballots that haven’t been counted?

  • jskdn

    It’s wrong to compare the number of returned vote-by-mail ballots by age group with their share of the overall electorate instead of that share as a function of those in the age group that received mail-in ballots.

    Declined to state registered voters could theoretically vote a Democrat Presidential ballot, but it wasn’t easy to do. Vote by mail voters had to send in a request or go to the polls and turn in their vote-by-mail ballot to get to vote in the Democrat Presidential race. I did that to see how it worked. They had to look up in a manual to figure it out and even then they didn’t seem sure of what to do. While you could re-register online as a Democrat to get a presidential ballot, declined to state voters couldn’t simply request a Democrat Presidential ballot online. I’d like to know the share of declined to state voters who voted a presidential ballot.

  • Christine Rogers

    But what was the %of under 35 who choose mail in vrs what part of THAT % returned? And that’s only counting the ones that return early. This study is either not a very good study or this article isn’t written to clarify correctly.

  • ckishler

    Here’s one alternate, partial explanation for “low turnout”: In Alameda County there are 317 precincts where mail-in ballots have become *mandatory*–I live in one. According to the county’s online tracking system, 48 hours after I delivered my mail-in ballot to a neighboring polling place it has still “not been received.” While I was sitting at my laptop checking the status of my ballot for the 10th time in two days, I heard this story come on the radio. I am not one for online comments sections, but when your Mr. Mitchell of Political Data Inc. attributed the low turnout to young voters being overwhelmed by choice and/or unable to locate their postage stamps, I was compelled to register so that I could comment: “TOTAL B.S.”

  • JustGrim

    This is a horrible excuse for journalism. The votes won’t be tallied EVER. There are tens of thousands of provisional ballots that won’t be counted. It’s obnoxious to say that young people didn’t show up. You can only know that be counting ALL the ballots. It will take a lawsuit to make that happen. America is NOT a democracy.

  • Travis Lawrence

    I would invite the author of this article to do better research: Historically, the majority of votes in California are cast before the actual day of the polls. In 2014 it was 69%.

  • Kirk Linn

    I was a poll worker and from what I saw with my own eyes they didn’t show up. And to answer the question on Provisional ballots most have just now been verified let alone scanned so of course you can’t see them online yet. If you’re curious, go to your county’s election page and look for the reports that state clearly what has been counted.

  • Could this data be skewed? A large number of the vote-by-mail ballots weren’t counted by the time this survey was taken on June 6. I wouldn’t be surprised if the last-minute mail in ballots are skewed towards voters under 35.


Katie Orr

Katie Orr is a Sacramento-based reporter for KQED’s Politics and Government  Desk, covering the state Capitol and a variety of issues including women in politics, voting and elections and legislation. Prior to joining KQED in 2016, Katie was state government reporter for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. She’s also worked for KPBS in San Diego, where she covered City Hall.

Katie received her masters degree in political science from San Diego State University and holds a Bachelors degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University.

In 2015 Katie won a national Clarion Award for a series of stories she did on women in California politics. She’s been honored by the Society for Professional Journalists and, in 2013, was named by The Washington Post as one of the country’s top state Capitol reporters.   She’s also reported for the award-winning documentary series The View from Here and was part of the team that won  national PRNDI and  Gabriel Awards in 2015. She lives in Sacramento with her husband. Twitter: @1KatieOrr

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