Independents and Millennials Poised to Shake-up the California Primary towards Obama

Though Clinton still leads in the polls for the Feb. 5th California primary, Obama has two stealth forces that are poised to close that gap and potentially beat her: Independents and the young Millennial generation. Two recent articles in the San Francisco Chronicle help spell out how that might work.

1) Independents: California has huge numbers of independents who can ONLY vote in the Democratic primary. The Republican primary is closed to only registered Republicans. So even Independents who might want to vote for McCain only have the option to vote Democrat, and the candidate who clearly does best among independents is Obama.

The numbers are striking, as laid out by Mark Baldassare, the head of the respected Public Policy Institute of California, which does many state-wide surveys and polls:

“Since the 2000 presidential election, the number of major party voters has fallen by 800,000, while the "decline to state" (or independent) rolls have grown by 700,000 voters. Although Democrats still outnumber Republicans by nine percentage points (43 percent to 34 percent), independents, who account for 1 in 5 voters in California, have injected a new level of uncertainty into the state's partisan contests.”

2) Millennials: Large numbers of young people are now registered to vote in California and because they are new to the game, they are less clearly understood. Our New Politics Institute has done much work on this generation and it seems clear that they are more energized by an Obama candidacy at this point. So a critical issue going into he Feb. 5th contest will be the youth turnout, and the margin that goes for Obama. Again, today’s Chronicle has some striking numbers from the Public Policy Institute of California:

“Analysts and politicians have long lamented the low voter turnout among the 18- to 30-year-old set, which has fluctuated over the past three decades but never surpassed the 52 percent recorded in 1972, the first year 18-year-olds could cast ballots.

But this year, young voters and those who study them say things appear to be changing. In California, 63 percent of 25- to 34-year-old residents and 57 percent of 18- to 24-year-old residents are registered to vote, according to surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.”

The outcome of California is going to have a big bearing on the national race and so these two developments take on new importance in the next couple weeks. Simon lays the importance of California in a terrific post that you can continue to read here.

Hang tight.

Peter Leyden
Director of The New Politics Institute