Growing number of Calif. voters unaffiliated with political parties

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"Decline to state" voters could greatly influence California's elections

"Decline to state” voters, those people who are unaffiliated with any political party, make up 20 percent of California's electorate and could have great influence on upcoming elections.

A growing number of Californians are registering to vote as “decline to state” rather than claiming a political party, a new L.A. Times/USC poll shows.

The study revealed that they are the fastest growing segment of voters and that they could hold the key in the next election.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, talked to Patt Morrison about the study and the influence “decline to state” voters could have in the upcoming primaries and gubernatorial election.

“This is a remarkable shift. In 1998, only 14 percent of Californians were decline to state, so we’ve seen a 54 percent increase in just the 12 years. And these people are younger than the average voter, more so under 50,” Stern said.

“Clearly they’re more college educated. But they’re also people who are less interested in politics. They don’t vote as much, particularly in the primaries.”

Stern talked about the upcoming Proposition 14, which, if it passes, would make it so everyone received the same ballot in November. Californians would vote based on one large ballot and whoever the top two contenders are (even if they’re two from the same party) would face off in the November election.

Stern made clear that if this happened, then “decline to state” voters could have tremendous influence. Because this segment of voters typically doesn’t vote in primaries, passing the “top two” ballot would create a way for independent voters to get around primary vote blocks.

“They’re more likely to vote when they don’t have to go in and say ‘I’m a Democrat’ or ‘I’m a Republican,’” Stern said. “The candidates are going to have to pay much more attention particularly in the general election when the ‘decline to state’ voters are apt to go either way.”

Several callers expressed their reasons for registering as “decline to state.” Reasons included not knowing enough about either party to choose one, viewing the parties as too extreme one way or the other, and not wanting to associate with any party that is sponsored by corporate interests.

“What we’re seeing of course is a reduction in confidence in all of our establishments from government to parties to the church to labor unions to corporations… so I think this is an indication of that,” Stern said.

Stern said that politicians could be in trouble as discontent amongst voters grows and that this trend will most likely continue.

“I think incumbents are going to be in deep trouble this November. I see a lot more people being voted out of office,” he said. “I think ‘decline to states’ are going to continue to go up as people just are protesting both parties.”

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