Props 30 and 32 and the Making of a 'Zombie Party'

Campaign 2016
| Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The 2012 election has left the state GOP a "zombie party" bereft of youth, color, women, and California's most populous county.

Exit polling found that 28 percent of those who cast ballots on Proposition 30 -- the governor's tax initiative for schools and colleges -- were between the ages of 18 and 29. They voted "yes" by an overwhelming two-thirds to increase state sales and income taxes.

Under-30 voters also turned out in unexpected numbers, to the discomfort of Republican candidates and the agents of big donors to rightward tilting propositions. Even the highly respected Field Poll misjudged the size of the young adult vote in calculating the pool of those mostly likely to cast a ballot.

Polling that showed declining support for Proposition 30 missed the key demographic behind the governor's victory.

[For a contrary view that disputes the size of the youth vote, click here.]

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Proposition 30 also energized Latino voters (who represented 23 percent of those who voted) to support the measure, 53 percent in favor to 47 percent opposed.

Union members, newly re-energized by Proposition 32's limitations on fundraising and the Democrats' massive get-out-the-vote campaign, provided enough blue-collar votes not only to defeat that measure, but also to add support to Proposition 30's winning margin. As a kind of slideshow, those votes also aided in the defeat of Republicans in what might otherwise have been safe seats in the state Senate, and the state Assembly.

Those losses may allow the Democrats to dominate both houses of the Legislature with majorities that cannot be restrained by parliamentary rules.

Opposition to Proposition 32 also breached the coastal/inland political divide that has characterized California politics since the 1980s to achieve a greater margin of "no" votes than similar restrictive measures did in 1998 and 2005.

In a post-election email, Steve Smith of the California Federation of Labor wrote:

Over the course of the campaign, 40,000 union volunteers made more than 3.7 million direct voter contacts on the phone and at the door. More than 1 million contacts were made as part of the final GOTV push in the last week. Union volunteers distributed 5.1 million fliers at worksites and doorsteps. This massive effort began in the spring, much earlier than we've ever kicked off a ground effort than before. Every evening and weekend for months, working people volunteered in record numbers to educate voters about the stakes in this election.

The concentration of young voters, union voters, and Latino and African American voters in Los Angeles County overwhelmed whatever momentum Republicans might have hoped for elsewhere in the final days of the 2012 campaign. And that concentration is advancing into Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, and (just perhaps) edging into San Diego County as well.

A changing electorate of young and non-white Californians may leave the GOP permanently marginalized in California. Many Republican operatives and commentators agree.

But concentrations don't automatically make a coalition or, even more, an electorate ready to invest its loyalty - as voters once did - in one political party. The Republican Party in California is a "zombie party," but it's still shambling forward, looking for brains.

Pragmatic Republican candidates - focused on governing and not ideological purity - can be elected, if, as as Tony Quinn succinctly noted at Fox and Hounds:

(we) let Howard Jarvis rest in peace and stop pretending we are still in the world of Proposition 13. On Tuesday 85 of 106 school bond measures passed, according to the League of California Cities. Californians clearly want more public resources; the question now is whether that money is spent wisely. That is where the Republican and business focus should be.

The new focus on govenring ought to come soon, because prafmatic Republicans have undead ideologues to deal with, stumbling toward seats in the state Assembly and Senate.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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