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More local voters ‘undecided’

Campaigns work to gather support from the younger, disillusioned

Posted: September 4, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 4, 2012 2:00 a.m.

 

With the post-Labor Day full-court-press of election season under way, candidates in the November 2012 election face a Santa Clarita voting public that’s considerably more purple than in elections past.

To be sure, local Republicans still tip the scales in favor of registered “red” voters in Santa Clarita, long considered a Republican stronghold. But those registered as “blue” Democrats are increasing at a faster clip.

And in Santa Clarita, as in other parts of California, the number of voters registered as purple “undecideds” is on the rise.

The increase in “blue” voters can be seen as far back as 1992, when a surge in registered Democrats occurred between the June primary and the November election.

That year, Bill Clinton won the presidential election with 43 percent of the popular vote. And since then, Santa Clarita acquired 7,876 Democrats compared to 3,986 Republicans, according to numbers from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office.

The percentage of no-party-preference registered voters has increased as well.

At least 16,987 registered Santa Clarita voters are neither red nor blue, according to the California secretary of state statistics.

Today, the purple no-party-preference sector represents almost a fifth of the electoral pie.

The secretary of state prepared the latest demographic breakdown of California communities in the days leading up to the June 5 primary. The numbers are as current as May 21.

Voter registration numbers for residents outside the city limits but within the Santa Clarita Valley were not available.

Abandoning party

Much has been made about the increase in undecided voters, but an expert on California politics and voting says it’s tough to tell how much of the undecided-voter increase is due to registered voters ditching their parties, and how much is due to newly registered voters who start out with no party preference.

“We do know that younger voters often don’t have much ties to either political party,” said Wesley Hussey, an assistant professor of government at California State University, Sacramento, “Or they like a particular candidate so they register for a particular party for that candidate, but later will switch to a no-party preference.”

In 1996, he said, 10 percent of all California voters declined to affiliate with a party; now that number is around 21 percent statewide — even higher than in Santa Clarita.

The popularity of no-party-preference voters may also be attributed to the changing voting structure in the state that allows independents to vote in a primary election without affiliating with a party, Hussey said. Both the Republican and Democratic parties authorized this open primary process for the June 2012 primary.

“If you were a young voter and didn’t have much tie, this allows you to stay independent and not feel the need to register for a political party,” Hussey said.

But the increase in undecided voters in Santa Clarita could be good news for Republican candidates. Historically, no-preference voters in regions largely leaning one way or the other tend to vote consistently with the majority party, Hussey said.

Thus a voter may decide to abandon his or her traditional party but is still likely to vote along that party’s lines, the assistant professor said.

Scrambling

Campaigns have access to information about registered voters who switch from a party preference to no preference, Hussey said. These voters are an important target both to the initially preferred party and the opposing party, he said.

“Well-run campaigns will be scouring the no-party-preference voter list and looking to previous lists and seeing if this is a former Democrat or Republican who is a no-party preference or is this a new voter and target accordingly,” he said.

Lynn Haueter, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, said disillusioned voters are leaving both parties.

Republicans are knocking on doors and targeting both no-party and Democratic voters, she said.

“People a lot of times aren’t aware of what the Republican Party stands for,” she said. “You really need to fight for those votes and make sure you get your message out as much as possible.”

The parties can appeal to the undecided population, and they can also work to register more of their party base, she said.

“We’ve really been pushing to do grassroots voter registration efforts,” Haueter said. The number of registered Republicans in L.A. County had dipped below 1 million, she said, but through registration efforts it’s back up above 1 million now, she said.

Candice Easter, a regional director for the California Democratic Party who represents Kern County, said her party seeks voters who have changed their registration from Republican.

“We firmly believe that it’s mostly Republicans changing because they don’t like the extremely religious right stances,” Easter said. “We do go after them and we do convince them to vote our way. We’re fairly successful in doing that.”

Aimed at the ‘undecideds’

Most of the Santa Clarita Valley is represented in one Assembly district, two Senate districts and one congressional district. All but one of these districts remains dominated by Republicans, but the high count of “undecideds” could tip the ballots one way or the other.

Most local candidates declined to discuss specific campaign strategies aimed at wooing undecided voters.

“Voters of all parties are concerned about the economy and jobs,” said Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, in response to questions about reaching no-party-preference voters.

“I intend to reach Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and independents,” said his opponent, Democrat and political newcomer Lee Rogers. “Regardless of party, right now most voters are prioritizing our economy.”

Rogers has led an aggressive political attack against 20-year incumbent McKeon, stepping up his rhetoric after winning the primary.

“The Zink campaign is not looking at this district as red, blue, purple or green,” 27th Senate District contender Tood Zink told The Signal. “We won in June and we expect to win in November by talking to people about job growth, safe streets and good schools. Those themes work with everyone.”

“I think we need more moderation,” said Democrat Edward Headington, who is running for the 38th Assembly District. “I think we need folks who can push the majority party in the different direction — not to be so blue, maybe be a little more purple.”

Headington and Republican candidate Scott Wilk largely agreed with each other during the primary election. Now challenged to distinguish themselves from each other, Headington is running a campaign of having the inside track in the Legislature because he is a member of the majority party. Wilk reminds voters of that party’s failures.

“I’m letting them know who I am and what I stand for,” Wilk said of his strategy for dealing with voters who don’t state a party preference.“

He maintained the district is “overwhelmingly conservative” but noted, “I take nothing for granted.”

“Disaffected Republicans have not been happy with the state’s representation,” he said. “We need to govern on a conservative platform and do what we say we’re going to do. The decisions made in Sacramento are what put is in the quagmire we are in today.”

jholt@the-signal.com

661-287-5527

smitchell@the-signal.com

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