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California Voter Participation Survey

About This Report

California is home to more than 36 million people, according to the state’s Department of Finance. Of those 36 million residents, the Secretary of State’s office estimates that about 22 million are eligible to vote. More than one-third of the state’s residents—about 14 million Californians—are ineligible to vote because they are not of age, not legal citizens, or are convicted felons currently incarcerated or on parole.

Of the 22 million Californians eligible to vote, about 16.5 million were registered as of the November 2004 election. Another 5.5 million Californians, representing one-fourth of all eligible voters in the state, are unregistered to vote. Voter turnout in statewide elections varies from year to year, ranging from as many as nearly 12.6 million voters in the November 2004 presidential election, to as few as 5.3 million in the March 2002 statewide primary election.

It has been widely noted in recent years that California’s voting population does not reflect the demographics of the state. Though California’s population grows increasingly younger and more diverse, California’s voting population continues to be dominated by older, white voters. Demographers estimate that if these trends continue, whites will constitute 30 percent of the state’s population by 2040 but will still make up the majority of California voters. Such trends may increase the likelihood that California’s elected representatives will inevitably be more concerned with representing the interests of a limited, nonrepresentative portion of the California public.

Comparing 2000 Census data with 2000 presidential exit poll data collected by the Los Angeles Times provides examples of the disparities between California’s public and California’s electorate:

The challenge in shaping an electorate that reflects the diversity of the state is compounded by the fact that the state’s population is constantly growing. While the number of voters participating in statewide elections has increased tremendously over the past several decades, the percentage of eligible voters participating in elections has not kept pace with the growth in population.

About the California Voter Participation Survey

In 2004, the California Voter Foundation (CVF) undertook a year-long research project, funded with a grant from The James Irvine Foundation, to facilitate greater awareness of California voter participation barriers and incentives, particularly among groups currently underrepresented in the state’s voting population.

In the summer of 2004, on behalf of CVF, David Binder Research conducted a statewide survey of 2,145 Californians. Two kinds of eligible California voters were surveyed: registered, infrequent voters who have voted in one or none of the last four elections; and unregistered, eligible Californians.

To prepare for the survey, CVF commissioned four sets of focus groups comprised of infrequent Latino, Asian Pacific Islander (API), African American and young voters, with assistance from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and David Binder Research.  Representatives from these organizations also served as a research advisory group throughout the project and provided input on the survey methodology and questions.

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted by telephone between July 25 and September 22, 2004, with two separate samples of 1,000 respondents and an oversampling of 145 respondents. The first sample of 1,000 infrequent California voters was drawn from a list of registered voters who have voted in zero or one of the last four statewide elections. Respondents were screened to ensure that they were registered to vote and that they describe themselves as voting in none or some of the last four elections.

The second sample of 1,000 California nonvoters was sampled through random digit dialing methodology. Respondents were contacted randomly and then were screened for voter registration and eligibility. All respondents were ensured to be unregistered, 18 years of age or older and citizens of the United States. Each sample has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Language

The survey was conducted in English, Spanish, and Cantonese. When monolingual non-English speakers were contacted, they were flagged and immediately contacted in their own language. A comparison of the language breakdown of survey respondents to data available on monolingual non-English speakers in California indicates that the languages spoken by the sample were not as closely aligned to the expected languages of nonvoters and infrequent voters.

Demographics

David Binder Research (DBR) compared the demographics of the infrequent voters in the CVF survey to the list of all California voters who met the selection criteria. This ensured that CVF’s sample accurately reflects the population.

For the nonvoters’ sample, DBR compared the survey sample to Census data and voter registration data from the Secretary of State. DBR examined voting age Californians who are not registered to vote, weighted them by citizenship, and compared them to the survey sample of respondents. The survey sample reflects the demographics of the eligible, nonvoting population.

Oversample

In addition to the initial sample of 2,000 Californians, ethnic minorities were oversampled to ensure that both of CVF’s samples included at least one hundred respondents in each ethnic group. One hundred forty-five African American, Asian Pacific Islander, and Latino infrequent voters and nonvoters were oversampled. In the oversample, surveys were conducted initially in English, Spanish, and Cantonese, and follow-up calls were made in Spanish and Cantonese. The data are weighted to the original ethnicity results to ensure accurate representation of the random results of the survey.

The following table details the sample size of infrequent voters and nonvoters in the various groups highlighted in this report.

INFREQUENT VOTERS:  SAMPLE SIZES OF HIGHLIGHTED GROUPS

GROUP

SAMPLE SIZE

African American

100

Latino

221

Latino English-Speaking

170

Latino Spanish-Speaking

51

Asian Pacific Islander (API)

100

API English-Speaking

65

API Cantonese-Speaking

35

 

NONVOTERS:  SAMPLE SIZES OF HIGHLIGHTED GROUPS

GROUP

SAMPLE SIZE

African American

97

Latino

211

Latino English-Speaking

200

Latino Spanish-Speaking

11

API

103

API English-Speaking

68

API Cantonese-Speaking

35

 


The significant demographic variables analyzed in this report have a sample size of about 100, and a margin of error of 9.8 percent. In the case of Latino infrequent voters and nonvoters, the sample size is slightly larger (about 200); the margin of error for a sample size of 200 is 6.9 percent. Because the margin of error increases as the sample size decreases, cross-tabulation findings drawn from smaller sample sizes are indicated in this report.

Frequent Voters Comparison

Data from recent surveys of frequent voters is included in this report for purposes of comparison. Frequent voters are defined as voters who vote in one, two, three, four, or five of the last five elections. Although there is minor overlap, this population is significantly more likely to vote than infrequent voters, who voted in zero or one of the last four elections. Frequent voters data are compiled from two surveys: one DBR survey of 700 frequent voters conducted August 2 - 4, 2004; and one DBR survey of 1,000 frequent voters conducted September 18 - 24, 2004. Although this data is not in the public domain, it was collected using standard survey research methods.

 

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This page was first published on April 7, 2005 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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