Marisa Lagos: Hi, I’m Marisa Lagos. I cover politics at KQED and co-host a weekly podcast and show called Political Breakdown. I think you’re all political junkies here, so you’d probably enjoy it. We try to get behind the people in politics and talk about their personalities. Kristin’s been on the show before. It’s super fun. So I’m really excited about this panel because these are honestly people I call all the time to make myself sound smart on the radio, and they all bring kind of a different interesting perspective here.
Mindy Romero is director of the California Civic Engagement Projects at USC. She was formerly at UC Davis. She studies all this stuff, so she really has a handle on the numbers, and today we’re going to let her kind of open up the panel, kind of laying some groundwork on that.
Of course, you just metLisa García Bedolla who is, I think, also going to be able to give us some of that context. And then Kristin Olson is a former state assembly Republican leader, a Stanislaus County supervisor, and someone who I think has been very critical of her own party in recent years and months, you know, as we’ve seen the changes happening nationally and, quite frankly, the problems that the GOP is having at the ballot box here.
Dan Schnur, I think you were once a Republican right?
Dan Schnur: Long, long time ago… in a galaxy far, far away.
Marisa Lagos: He did work in politics, but we won’t hold that against him. He is currently director of the Sacramento Bee California influencer series. He actually ran for office himself, so he’s got a nice holistic perspective as well, so thanks for being here. I’m going to sit down and make it like we all are just hanging out in our living room because that’s totally what we do.
I want to open it up with Mindy to kind of just give us a brief sense of where we’re at in California demographically and in that, you know, how it ties into the politics.
Mindy Romero: Okay. Can everyone hear me okay? Okay, great. In our living room, huh? Well I’m dressed pretty comfy today.
Marisa Lagos: Well I always tell people it’s like if you’re trying to explain this to your mom or something.
Mindy Romero: True, and I’m actually going to focus a little bit more on the recent turnout results. So today we’re all here to talk about the 2018 election, but to dissect it right? To do the post mortem, and this is always a fantastic conference to have those conversations. A very important thing to talk about is turnout, not just the overall turnout for the population, which we all know was very high in November, but how did it break out? Was it high for everybody?
And particularly, specifically, the question of representation. So usually higher turnout means a more representative electorate, meaning that you narrow the gap in turnout rates across race, ethnicity, age, and other groups. But was that the case? What did it actually look like? What did it mean bottom line for representation? Did we become a more representative electorate?
Well, I’ll answer the question. The short of it is we’re not a representative electorate, of course. We have never been in California’s history or in any given election, whether it’s high turnout or low turnout. We have a pool of actual voters that are participating. The voters in that election are older, whiter, wealthier, better educated than the population as a whole. And also even just the eligible voter population as a whole.
So really the question is, at any given election, if we have high turnout, did we close that gap? Did we become, if not fully representative, because we’re not there yet, did we become more representative? Did we see less under-representation? Makes sense? Okay.
And that I’ll talk about in just a moment, I’d like to set the stage a little bit more in terms of 2018. And why this all matters by the way, again we’re breaking out the election, but turnout and representation, we’re talking about, you know, the gubernatorial race in a little while and the seven districts that were flipped by Democrats in another panel. But really who were those voters? Were those voters making those decisions selecting the elected officials that now we’re going to be representing all of us? Were they selected by a group of folks that were representative or at least, again, a little bit better in terms of representation in the past?
So to set the stage for 2018, as you all know, this is a savvy group here every time we have this election or at this conference. But there was a lot of speculation going into 2018 for both the primary and the general around what turnout would look like. Most of it geared around how would that impact what race? Would it have an impact in the battle for the control of Congress? That sort of thing. But still, we saw a lot of speculation, particularly around the Latino vote, the question around, you know, would there be a Trump effect? A lot of speculation around the youth vote, particularly in the wake of the Parkland shooting. I know I fielded a lot of media calls, and I’m sure all of our panelists did, asking was this going to be the year of the youth vote? Was this going to be the year the Latinos could help flip the districts in California or potentially elsewhere?
As I had those conversations, I said, at least, that there were a lot of good science to say that this would be a good turnout year, and that should mean that it would be a good turnout year for underrepresented groups. But I also was concerned about expectations. So we also always, every election, have some sort of speculation right around, is this going to be the year for Latinos or something like that.
And expectations, how we set those, making sure that they’re realistic, is very, very important. And when we look at comparable elections, so presidential to presidential or midterm to midterm, and we talk about high turnout or low turnout, we’re typically only talking about a few percentage points difference between what is a high turnout or low turnout. Right? Most of you know that. And so as I would talk to reporters, sometimes you would hear, or other folks that would ask me questions, sometimes you would hear that the level of expectation was just way beyond what we — we’d all love to see, but probably it was very unlikely, right? We’d have to see a record and then some.
And then not only was their speculation around the trump effect and things like that, but we also had really high registration rates, some of the highest registration rates we’ve seen in decades for a gubernatorial election. And of course the highest number, or record number, of registrates in California.
But at the same time, back to expectations, we also had continuing disparities in those registration rates. So whereas for the total population, we were nearly 80 percent, at 78 percent going into the election – and the registration rate is the percent of those who are eligible to register who actually are registered. But Latinos it was about 68 percent, for Asian Americans it was about 57 percent. And these are numbers that we’ve calculated at my shop. For youth age 18 to 24, it was little over 60 percent, the highest that I’ve ever seen in terms of registration rate, so exciting, but still a huge gap compared to that 78 percent.
So, even though we do have same day voter registration, essentially, in California, there are limits to it, of course, and people are still learning that it exists. So essentially we went into the election after the close of registration with a lot of people that couldn’t register, right? Or thought they couldn’t register. I’m sorry, couldn’t vote or thought they couldn’t vote because they didn’t know about same day registration. So I wanted to set that stage.
So what did we see in 2018? So, yes it was a high year. You all know it was the highest eligible turnout rate since 1982. That’s reported from the Secretary of State’s office. We saw a lot of press around that. That’s exciting. That was actually 50 percent, if you don’t know the specific number. Probably we want to all see more than that. But 50 percent eligible turnout rate, and it’s the percent of those eligible to vote, adult, citizens who voted is high, right, for a midterm year.
For Latinos, and we just recently crunch these numbers — we have a report coming out, but I’ll go into more depth. I’ll just give you a few numbers today to hopefully inform the conversation a little bit. But for Latinos, instead of 50 percent, it was 36 percent eligible turnout rate. 33 percent for Asian Americans. Youth 27 percent, 27.5 percent specifically age 18 to 24. Now that might be disappointing. 27.5 percent for youth when there was a lot of speculation around youth. But again, we have to think about what the range of possibility is. What is a good year — of course we all want to push that range. But, in 2014, which is a bad year to compare because of the record low turnout year, only 31 percent of all registered, eligible voters actually voted. But the youth number for age 18 to 24 in that election, a number that I mentioned here at the conference four years ago, well at a different location, but with only 8 percent. Only 8 percent of eligible youth in 2014 in that general election actually voted. 8 percent, yeah, wow.
So now it’s 27 percent. We expected progress. We knew we wouldn’t be anywhere near those record low numbers for the state. Everybody improved. Underrepresented groups improved, but let’s talk about the percent of the vote. Let’s go back to, did we get a more representative electorate? Gaps in turnout rates, and I won’t go into the weeds, but the disparities of turnout rates help produce an electorate, where each group that has lower turnout rates has a lower share of all voters in that election, that doesn’t match up to their share of the eligible voter population or the overall voter population. In 2018, we did see some pretty good numbers. So, Latinos, 36 percent eligible turnout rate, but 21 percent of the vote. In the 2016 presidential election, it was 22 percent.
So we got close to a presidential year in terms of share of the vote: it was 15 percent in 2014. And we also have some slight population growth that’s happened obviously since 2016. For young people, they were three percent of all voters with a really low turnout rate in 2014. They were a little over seven percent, seven point two percent, in the November 2018 election. I want to make sure I’m being clear on my elections. So there’s progress in terms of having an electorate, right? That there’s been a share of the growth I want you to under underrepresented, but still significant disparities that remained. And I think we’ll leave it there just for time, and I know we’re going to hopefully at some point also be talking about some of the changes in what we might expect in the future too.
Marisa Lagos: Yeah, definitely. I want to get to that. So Lisa, I know you have some numbers in front of you. I’m curious if you can sort of just put into context your impressions of what these demographics mean. I think more broadly, we’ve seen just the demographics of California change in recent years and of course that impacts the electorate. Clearly it’s still not as representative, but what’s your sense of how this has impacted the political parties, both this year and looking forward, because we’re already in 2020, as we all know.
Lisa García Bedolla: I’m going to have a new democratic candidate every day. So as Marisa said, she asked me to talk about the parties. I wanted to provide a little bit of context. The first is that demography is not destiny, right? It is not automatically true that because I am a Latina, I’m a Democrat, right? If I am a Democrat, it’s actually for historical and political reasons, right? It’s not just because being a member of a certain group means you’re going to vote in a particular kind of way and in particular, you know, there was some discussion earlier after the November election that the changes, the 16 year old preregistration and the other changes that have been put into place to try to get more youth to vote were actually against the Republican Party and just to say if youth happened to vote democratic, it’s because the policies that those elected officials are advocating appeal to those youth and the other party could in fact adopt policies that appeal to those youth too. It’s not automatic that people are going to vote in a particular kind of way. So when I talk about these differences, we have to appreciate that there are policy and political reasons why people are attaching themselves to parties in a particular way.
But I think the bigger message, at least in California, is that there’s a little bit of a pox on both their houses as far as the electric goes, people being disenchanted with both. And I’m going to give you some numbers on that.
But I think a lot of people just don’t realize, especially as we think about the work our county registrars do with every election, how many voters we have in California. So this is, as of last night I’m going to say, I wanted to give you fresh data and not that I procrastinated to put these numbers together, but we have 19.9 million registered voters in the state of California. That is a massive, massive number of people that we have to deal with. And 6.5 million of them have registered since November 2016. So again, we also tend to treat voters as this kind of fixed static thing.
But in fact, the voter file is changing all the time and it’s shifting all the time, particularly with people who move a lot in immigrant communities. They’re constantly coming in, going out, all those things, so just to appreciate, these are dynamic numbers that are going to move around. But right now overall among all registered voters, you have a 19 point gap between Democrat and Republican registration. So basically 43 percent of those 19.9 million people are registered Democrats. 24 percent are registered Republicans. We now have a situation where we have more people registered, declined to state then Republicans in the state of California. So 28 percent of those are registered Republicans, but there are significant differences across groups.
The other caveat I’m going to say: this is all data from Political Data Inc. They’ve been a tremendous partner to us at IGS and so they have very high quality data for California, but there are some problems with it. So I’m going to say who latino voters are, I’m going to say what black voters’ registration looks like, but we have to know that those numbers are quite imperfect because it’s all imputed, right? You don’t put your race when you register to vote, so they have to figure it out. Whites for political data is: not African American, asian or black; which is not the most perfect measure, so all of what I’m saying has some caveats in terms of those things, but right now the gap between democratic and republican registration in the state of California overall is 40 points among latinos, 58 points among African Americans, 19 points among asians and then 9 among whites. Again, white being a very imperfect category.
But the most important thing I think is that somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of people are decline to state and so just don’t choose either party. Looking at the people who’ve registered most recently, because I think that’s really about what the change is. You’ve got a 22 point gap between democrat and republican registration among those 6.5 million people who registered since November of 2016.
The gap is slightly smaller for Latinos, Blacks and Asian Americans. So 35 versus 40. Just to talk about latinos, and I don’t want to throw around too many numbers because I know, especially at this time of the day, it makes your eyes cross. Part of that large number of declined to state with new registrants may be due to the way that automatic voter registration works, which is a two stage process, so if you go to the DMV and you get automatically registered, you have to proactively then go and choose a party, and you don’t get asked that in the first round. So it may be that many people who registered just don’t take that second stage.
Marisa Lagos: But this was already, decline to states were growing.
Lisa García Bedolla: No, it isn’t growing. I’m just saying some of that might be just that piece, but it is suggestive of, when you’ve got basically 36 percent of the new registrants declined to state versus 40 percent choosing the Democratic party. California isn’t blue or red. Maybe we should call it yellow or green or I don’t know what we’re going to. Well, Green I guess is a party, but you know, we should call it something else because most people, a good, significant and growing proportion of people aren’t aligning themselves to either party. And I think that suggests possibility for movement if one party or the other starts to sort of think about how they talk about policy, what kinds of candidates they bring forward to actually change that dynamic.
So I think, we need to remember that California was Reagan country in the eighties. Latinos were close to evenly split in terms of Democratic Republican in the early nineties, right? These are political and historical processes that are really about the positions that parties are taking. And so to appreciate that it’s not fixed in time, and there are some real concerns about people’s attachment to both right now.
Marisa Lagos: So Dan, I want to talk to you as our “no party preference” expert, I don’t know, but we’ve seen these numbers improve or increase over time. But we’ve also seen when you ran for secretary of state with no party preference, you’re unsuccessful. We saw Steve Poisoner fall short, who had the name id, who had the money in the insurance commissioner race. What does that tell you about when you look at these numbers, and kind of think about that, about these voters? Because in the GOP, but you can get to that, because I think there’s a sense “oh, well they’re no party preference, maybe they skew one way or the other” but it’s not a monolithic group in any way, right?
Dan Schnur: No, not in the slightest. And actually if you look at the trajectory of the two races that you just cited, Marisa, in 2014 I drew 9 percent of the vote in a primary against opponents of both parties. Last year Steve Poisoner drew 47 percent of the vote.
Marisa Lagos: It was close.
Dan Schnur: So the good news is if you do the arithmetic by the year 2022, the next ‘no party preference’ candidate ought to receive 85 percent of the vote in the state of California. And while that’s a little bit ambitious, and can come back to some of the obstacles for that. Before we go any further though, I want to take a moment, as Marisa did to thank our host, I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the institute of governmental studies, for more than 20 years now. And Ethan and Lisa do an amazing job here in all sorts of ways. But one way in particular I want to point to is when I first came to one of these conferences in 1990, virtually every panelist on every panel was a white man.
Marisa Lagos: And now you’re outnumbered.
Dan Schnur: And when I sat down I realized I am happily outnumbered because I demographically represent the cohort of angry old white men in the state of California. And I’ll do my best to suppress at least the anger for the time being. But all joking aside, the institute not only does incredible work substantively, but the fact that it has recognized the changing reality of California demography in politics. This panel here is a testament to it. And I’m very pleased to be a token on the panel with these four really, really smart people.
Dan Schnur: There is a common misperception about independent voters whether it’s self described, whether formally registered as no party preference here in California or declined or state elsewhere. And a common misperception is that independent is a synonym for moderate. So couple of things. First of all, getting back to the angry thing. I’m not moderate about anything. The reason I’m a no party preference voter is because I’m fiercely conservative on some issues and equally fiercely liberal on others. If anything, centrism is just sort of an average.
But taking myself out of this equation, most smart people in both parties will correctly point out to you that while there are a few centrist moderates, whatever you want to call me, like me, wandering the NPP landscape, the overwhelming majority of independent voters are ideologically indistinguishable on a left right spectrum, from traditional Democrats and traditional Republicans. The overwhelming majority of no party preference voters here and independent voters nationally are either just as liberal as most Democrats, or just conservative as most Republicans. But there is a really important ideological differentiator. It doesn’t come on a left-right scale, but rather on an outside-in a scale.
What causes someone to register as an independent is not because they reject the two parties for being too liberal or too conservative. What causes someone to withdraw from the two major parties is rather a hostility, an antipathy, and often an anger, toward the two parties, towards politics as usual, toward government. And so you watch as we sit here on the eve of the Howard Schultz administration. And what’s interesting to me about it, is that he has at least early on, staked his claim as an independent, as a centrist. Now there is some overlap. Some people are angry because one party is too liberal and the other party is too conservative, but will be interesting to me in watching Schultz go forward is number one, does he not replace, but pair that centrism with two things.
Number one, a particular policy issue as Ross Perot did many, many years ago, emphasized in the federal deficit in a way that neither Democrats or Republicans of that era did. And number two, can he gIve voice to that hostility, and to that anger? I think, like I said, independents aren’t independent because they’re moderate, they’re independent because they’re dissatisfied. And we’ll see going forward whether Schultz or others can tap into that dissatisfaction. To date ironically enough, the people who are most successful in tapping into that dissatisfaction or hostility come from the experience of the two parties. We’ll come to that later but Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in all sorts of ways probably have a lot more in common than either one of them would care to admit.
Marisa Lagos: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. And I think we could spend the hour talking about Howard Schultz and all the candidates, but I think that’s something I’m watching too. Just this idea that being a centrist, both Trump and Sanders, tapped into this populism and this anger and this dissatisfaction with both parties as well, even though they were running as representatives of each party. And I think that there’s a sort of very small window there, but we don’t have to go too deep into that.
Dan Schnur: Before Kristin takes over, just to that point, there’s an old saying in politics, that there’s no such thing as a raging moderate, right? And so no question what both Sanders and Trump did, very adroitly is recognize that the greatest hostility and anger came from the bases of two parties, not from the center. So it’s not to say that it can’t be done from center. We’ll see, but certainly Sanders and Trump demonstrated where that turf is most fertile.
Marisa Lagos: It’s actually a great segué to Kristen because I think she’s been very turned off by those far wings of both parties, but you know, you’ve been very vocal in a time where I think people have really retreated to their political corners way more and so, you recently warned that the GOP in California is dying and I think that the registration numbers are so boring, but the numbers in the state legislature are even worse for Republicans. Can you just talk a little bit about what you mean by that and what you think the parties should do. Is it an opening for a third party, which frankly, history doesn’t show us that there’s a lot of opportunity there, or should the parties sort of rise like a phoenix and rebuild itself?
Kristin Olsen: Yeah. Great questions. And it seemed more simple in the aftermath of the election actually than it does today, because we’ve spent a lot of time hypothesizing about these issues and figuring out the path forward and it just becomes more complex, not more simple. And so we can talk all day about that one particular question, but this is not something that took place overnight. The fact is in the last two decades, Republican registration in California has declined by 12 percent and it is to some extent tied to demographics in those same time periods of the last two decades.
The white population in California has declined by roughly the same percentage, so demographics are clearly having an impact on registration for better or for worse. I do agree with Lisa though that either party has an opportunity, to present policy solutions and ideas and demonstrate a way to resonate with voters that can overcome demographics if they choose to do so, and the republican party and the last couple of decades has failed to adapt to those changing demographics, has failed to participate in outreach programs that build relationships with California’s changing demographics, which has led to its decline. And then what we saw in the 2018 elections was, in my opinion, it’s ultimate death.
I believe the party today is dead in California. In the California state assembly, we have fewer republicans. I wouldn’t clap about that. As a long term historical Republican I’ve spent my whole adult life in it, but I get it, I’m just as frustrated.
Marisa Lagos: But we just thought the last member of the San Diego GOP delegation switched parties, not to independent, to Democrat.
Kristin Olsen: Not to NPP, but to Democrat, so we have fewer people serving in the California state assembly today as Republicans than we’ve had since the 1800s. John Cox, if you read things you might hear from some individuals and organizations, John Cox performed better than all the California congressional candidates who lost their seats.
Okay. That might be true, but he’s still got a fewer percentage of the vote than any other Republican gubernatorial candidate effort. So that is not a positive to point to, that If we’re just right on the message, that we’re going to succeed in elections. It’s going to take a lot more than that. For a long time many of us, or at least several of us thought that we could demonstrate that California Republicans are different from the national brand. We thought we could rise above what I would consider a toxic national brand. 2014 and 2016 we actually had great success with that.
In 2016 Catharine Baker, some of you may be familiar with that name; she represented the east bay area. She as a republican candidate up for reelection, beat Donald Trump’s numbers by 29 percent on the exact same ballot as him. In 2018, and she has been a very vocal opponent of many of trump’s behaviors and policies, she lost that race by a percent or two and so that was probably the most graphic illustration that what we thought we could do, to demonstrate the California republicans are different, we simply weren’t able to do in 2018.
I don’t think in 2020 it’s going to look much better. And so it does lead to the question then, where do we go from here? If the party in California is dead today, can it be rebuilt or is it time to look at another path? And I would argue that the jury’s still out. I am exploring both. As Marisa said, creating a new party or a new movement is a monumental task that’s never been effectively done in the past, but if we look at the past, it’s typically always centered around one individual or one particular policy issue.
So the question now is, are we at a unique time in history where we have a particular president who is dividing this country unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, a politically polarized environment where I believe the silent majority is part of the disaffected voting population that’s frustrated with both parties, and at the same time we have a growing no party preference electorate that we don’t see changing. We don’t see that trajectory changing anytime soon. I call it the radical middle. Although I agree with Dan, middle doesn’t necessarily imply centrist on ideology. It just means the middle.
The vast majority of the middle NPP voters, disaffected Republicans, disaffected Democrats are hungry for leadership that presents real solutions to the real problems that are plaguing our communities, our state and our nation. And they’re not finding that leadership, at least today, in either party.
So if the movement toward a new party could be broad based with a number of individuals from both parties from the middle, for sort of a multiparty effort, a trans party effort. If the issues that they rally around and unify around were multiple, three or four common values and policy priorities that they want to advance, and if there is a broad base of the donor community who can get behind that effort, there might be a path in California. I think it’s too soon to tell, but many of us are looking to see; Is there a path forward in that way where millions and millions and millions of Californians could feel represented again?
Because I will tell you, there are many, I would argue most, who don’t feel represented by the two parties today, one moving rightward and one moving left toward. The other option is to rebuild the party from the ground up. There is opportunity in crisis. The party I have argued is dead. The entire infrastructure at the California Republican party will be changing at the end of February. The chairman is termed out, the staff is going to be changing, the executive director is leaving, so there is potentially opportunity to rebuild, if the party can wait out and outlast Donald Trump’s presidency. I don’t think there will be any opportunity as long as he’s in the seat of the presidency.
And the number one issue is you have to acknowledge the problem and it is mind boggling to me how many activists in the Republican party, despite the 2018 election results still do not want to acknowledge the problem that we’re in. They want to double down on everything we’ve been doing which has gotten worse and worse and worse election results over the last 20 years. And so if they can begin to acknowledge the problem, if they can begin to put individuals in place, and spokespersons in place that can demonstrate they truly care about Californians in all regions of the state, from all demographics of the state, they can expose the problems that the current party in control has not dealt with yet, and offer real solutions to those challenges. Whether it’s housing, homelessness, poverty, income inequality, etcetera, they may be able to get on a path where they could become a viable second party again.
And that’s what I would argue Californians really need is a viable two party system where public policy outcomes best serve the greatest number of Californians in all regions of our state. Public policy outcomes are ultimately better when people of varying ideologies and perspectives have to work together to craft those policies. So that would be the goal I try to see or would like to see. And I think the jury is still out, whether that’s through a new movement or a new party or whether it’s through a rebuilding of the California republican party that moves to a very different place than it’s been over the last 20, 30 years.
Marisa Lagos: Thanks you guys. So I have a lot of questions and I would love to make this a conversation, so please jump in. One thing that made me think, because I’ve watched the legislature for the past 10 plus years is, what does it mean to be a Democrat or Republican these days? And you mentioned Katherine Baker. Well, she voted more reliably Democratic than some central valley Democrats, right? I think what we saw in 2018 was a lot of those wobbler seats that Republicans have been able to hold in places like San Bernardino, Orange county flip, but they’re going to be up again in two more years, right? So I just wonder, is it possible that we almost have a two party system within the Democratic party at least legislatively, because you do have this mod caucus and business backed Democrats who are really different than the ones who are coming from more liberal coastal areas.
Dan Schnur: I think that’s a great question. Marisa. Yeah, the standing joke is California is a two party state. They’re just both Democratic parties, and in the state legislature to differentiate from the good grassroots work that the people at christian are doing. The dividing line you talked about is a very stark one, I’ll put it. A Smith, the smartest man in politics is here today, so I’ll put this in a Kamala Harris construct.
Think of the two Democratic parties as one party that is excited about Kamala Harris, but is concerned about positions on criminal justice issues and one democratic party that’s excited about Kamala Harris, but concerned about eliminating private insurance. And a very progressive Democratic party on both economic and social and cultural issues, does dominate the legislature primarily because of the lack of the ballast from a partisan standpoint that Kristin was talking about.
But to me the most important thing that’s happened in state politics over the last decade was number one, the passage of the top two primary and number two, the very smart decIsion of the California business community to aggressively recruit and support and fund Democrats who are very progressive on social and cultural issues, but more centrist or more pro business on economic matters.
And until the republican party accelerates the process that Kristin was talking about a moment ago, the biggest fights in Sacramento are between those two Democratic groups that said it’s a much more visible split, but in a two party system, neither party is ever going to be ideological uniform, right? In Israel, in Italy, and any other place you go with, there are six, eight, 10, 12 or more parties, you have the luxury of being ideologically pristine. Any political party that’s going to accomplish 50 percent of the vote plus one on a regular basis needs to make room for both of those kinds of Democrats, will ultimately need to make room for both of those kinds of Republicans.
Marisa Lagos: Let me play devil’s advocate a little bit. Is that a bad thing entirely? Because what we saw during say your time in the legislature was a caucus that was really hard to manage for you because they were so obsessed with a couple things, right? It was no taxes ever, we won’t go up on a budget, for example. Is there a positive to having a big tent party that is maybe more willing to cross some of those lines at different times?
Kristin Olsen: I think it’s a positive if, and it’s a big if, and I think based on my experience of the Democratic party is they do a much better job of it than the Republican party. I think it’s a positive if there’s a recognition and appreciation for the fact that there is a spectrum of ideas within one ideological party, so within the Republican party it should be okay and welcome that there is a spectrum of ideology from moderate to conservative on any number of the given issues.
The problem is that historically with the Republican party, they would rather have tension and factions over those ideological differences and kill and try to take out each other. Instead of when I was leader, I really worked to unify our caucus so that whether you are one of the mods or one of the conservatives, you were supporting each other because you recognized you’re going to agree with each other more than 50 percent of the time and probably 80 percent of the time and so give each other the space to be the individual elected Republican that they want it to be. And we were effective at that for a couple of years, but usually they’d rather attack each other then unify in and becoming stronger and being the opposition and the contrast to the Democratic party.
And the Democratic party, they have the same type of factions. There are growing number of factions. One of them in particular told me after the elections, he’d like to jump off a cliff right now rather than go to Democratic caucus meetings because he’s just going to be so frustrated all the time, but they tend to do a much better job despite their ideological differences of unifying in terms of opposing their Republican opponents from a policy and political perspective. And so I think it depends, but they are in a challenging time, you know, they have a three quarters majority in the assembly, a two thirds majority in the state senate.
I wouldn’t wish that upon any pro tem or speaker when the number of factions within Democratic ideology are growing, between those who want to fight for civil rights and labor versus environmentalism, those from the San Joaquin valley and inland California versus coastal California, and I think the geographic differences that those in the democratic caucuses are facing are becoming more prevalent, not less. And the last piece I’ll add similar to what Dan said about the business community seeking out candidates within the Democratic party that they can support that are more pro-jobs, pro-business. I’m seeing now candidates who are thinking about running for state office who may have been Republican at one time or maybe NPP at one time are going to run as Democratic candidates. Even though historically their ideological positions might be more reflective of Republican philosophy, they feel they have a better electoral opportunity running on the Democratic ticket and that can represent their ideological positions within that caucus. We’ll see if that ends up being a fruitful effort. But it’s interesting to see that shift taking place.
Marisa Lagos: Well I want to bring you guys back in.
Mindy Romero: Just one quick point on it before we get too far away from this conversation. Talking about the no party pref or the growth of no party preference has been slowly rising the last decade or so in California. The thing about no party preference is that voters that register as no party preference vote in lower turnout number, achieve lower turnout numbers.
Marisa Lagos: Is that because they’re not being talked to as much?
Mindy Romero: Well, yeah, a lot of reasons. So just, just to be clear, at any given election, typically a turnout, not looking at anything else, just party affiliation, voters that are registered as no party preference turn up 10, 11 percentage points lower than those that are registered as Democrats or Republicans and some variation there. And yeah, it’s because I think there’s a self selection processes we talked a little bit in terms of people feeling disconnected from the political process and from political parties I should say specifically. And also by definition they’re not signed up with a party and they’re not getting the contact, and outreach and mobilization as much. And a lot of parties of course and a lot of candidates and campaigns have been trying to figure out the strategies at reaching no party preference voters, but still by definition they’re not as connected.
So the lack of choice in that sense where voters find themselves has real implications in terms of our overall turnout numbers. Just the level of engagement in our elections when we have a big chunk of folks that are participating littler numbers. And even as we talk about these factions or whatever we want to call them within the party, of course reality is, how much of that, actually the everyday voter is aware of.
Mindy Romero: And he can swing either way confusing and turn voters off. It also could be, oh, now I found my slice, right? Right, like in multiparty systems around the world. Now I found what interests me. But the average voter doesn’t necessarily hear all of that or doesn’t know what to make of it.
Marisa Lagos: They’re not watching Cal channel as much as I am?
Mindy Romero: And the bottom line is we often have less engagement, right? So choice matters.
Marisa Lagos: Yeah. Lisa, you don’t know what to do with us right?
Lisa García Bedolla: I do, I agree with Dan, except I do want to emphasize, no party preference, at least among immigrant origin voters, isn’t necessarily a rejection. It’s just people not feeling comfortable enough with the system to be able to pick instead of appreciate that there’s also that part of not, not angry, but just confused. And then. And the fact that the bigger the tent for Democrats, the more confusing it becomes, right? Party preferences is a heuristic that people use as a shortcut to say, if you’re democratic it means you meet these things, if you’re Republican, you meet. So as those things fudge, it becomes much more difficult for voters to understand and our stuff is already really complicated. And so just to appreciate it just makes it harder and harder for people to know what they can trust, in terms of information about who should be the person that they’re supporting.
Marisa Lagos: Well, do you guys have any sense then both in terms of what this means for elections, and then also for campaigns because say I’m a no party preference voter. Welcome to our party. very week.
And when what I see is very confused mail from campaigns, because they try to target me through other means and I’ve actually talked to people. So for example, I have lived in a rent controlled apartment for 10 years and I got all this mail during the prop 10 debate as if I was a homeowner, because when I talked to one of the consultants, he’s like, yeah, we’ll look at your age, your education level, your income. Like we assumed that.
Lisa García Bedolla: You may impute that, but this is what I’m saying, they have to impute you. They don’t know anything,
Marisa Lagos: And they’re like this will drive down housing prices and I’m like, awesome, maybe I’ll buy it, but no, But so what are the pitfalls there then?
Lisa García Bedolla: Because it’s flawed, these are not perfect algorithms, right? Algorithms like garbage in, garbage out is the same principle, whether it’s an algorithm or any other thing. So they are going to see what magazines you buy, they’re going to buy third party marketing data, they’re going to see who you live with and whether you live with somebody. So you know, PDI has all of these democratic plus, democratic plus plus data, all of these different ways to try to impute information onto you. And then if it’s wrong, you either laugh or you think that they’re all crazy, right? Because they’re sending you the wrong thing.
Kristin Olsen: I think one of the challenges with that too though, is you have traditional republican political consultants and traditional democratic political consultants speaking to the NPP voter as if they know them as well as those traditional republican and democratic voters. They aren’t the same and so there’s been some talk lately about whether candidates should begin to hire multiple different political consultants who have expertise and understanding of different voting demographics in order to speak more effectively to this growing, no party preference voter.
It’s a tricky task, particularly for republican consultants because if republicans are only talking to republicans, we all know what’s going to happen. It’s just going to be more of the same, so they have to learn how to start talking to other people, and traditional republican political consultants may not be the best ones suited to be able to do that effectively, particularly with that NPP voter.
Lisa García Bedolla: But if I can just say an apology to all the political consultants in the room. Even the democratic and republican consultants aren’t always good at talking to their own party people. And aren’t necessarily able to have the nuance they need to actually get beyond the likely voter within their tent.
Mindy Romero: Yeah. And what I wanted to add was it just also just stepping back to the overarching approach, trying to find those likely voters. It’s entrenched reality in our political system, right? Campaigns and candidates use a likely, for the most part, the likely voter model to strategically utilize their resources to the biggest bang for their buck to reach those people. Highest likelihood that when they reach them they’re goIng to turn out.
But that approach also leaves out huge swaths of potential voters, right? Which in our state are more likely to be of color and younger people that if they got that connection, particularly if it was in a more thoughtful, more sustained way, which we could talk about too, that they will turn out. And much of Lisa’s research has shown that they will turn out, if they are contacted in a sustained a meaningful way, but because we live for the most part used a likely voter model. Lots of survey research shows the underrepresented groups, election in election out, report not getting even registered voters, report not getting that outreach and it’s a huge lost opportunity, but it’s also part of what adds to that underrepresented of electorate right there.
Lisa García Bedolla: I just have to make that point. But at the level that I did a back of the envelope for latino voters in the state of California. If you add together the unregistered and the folks that aren’t between 70 and 100 and in terms of the voting model, so the people who are going to be contacted either by mail, it’s 80 percent of latino voters, from outside of campaigns.
Marisa Lagos: Does that mean that the 2018 turnout is good news then? Because folks that we will bring more people in, more people will be part of those calculations?
Lisa García Bedolla: Yes because once people are in, then they’ll engage.
Marisa Lagos: The campaigns are buying their data.
Lisa García Bedolla: But it also means we still have a lot of work to do, and we haven’t solved the problem because you’ve got new people coming in all the time.
Marisa Lagos: So that point like how much of when we talk about the changing percentages of the parties, how much of it is people actually switching parties? How much of it is new voters? How much of it is people moving here? Did the republican party actually see people leave it in the last couple of years or did people just die?
Dan Schnur: It’s the old line. How did you lose your fortune? Gradually and then all at once. I think you could make the same case here in 2018. Married female college educated voters, abandoned the republican party in extraordinary numbers and elected a democratic house of representatives.
I’m not brave enough to predict an outcome of the 2020 election. I gave up on political predictions, but I would argue that a female candidate, whether Harris or Gillibrand or Warren or Tulsi Gabbard or Klobuchar starts with a built in advantage, given both that shift and that motivation, but it happened gradually not all at once.
My favorite quote is from Mark Twain “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes” and for those of us who are old enough to remember in the 1990s when smart democrats like Bill Clinton and Dianne Feinstein began talking about soccer moms, they were talking about precisely the same demographic. Suburban voters, soccer moms and soccer dads who are economically successful but socially moderate to liberal, who Clinton and other democrats convinced to deprioritize their economic interest, to vote on social and cultural matters.
At the same time, smart democrats like Clinton and Feinstein were moving the soccer parents in one direction, fewer of you may remember the term Nascar dad. Republicans began to reach out to Nascar dads in Nascar moms, economically blue-collar, socially conservative voters who shifted. To the quick statistical point, and then I’ll shut up.
Throughout modern history the single most reliable indicator of partisan voting behavior, for years, for decades was income. More money you made them, more likely you are to vote republican. The less money you made the more likely you are to vote democrat. And because of that massive trade, the soccer moms for Nascar dads. In 2004 during the Bush Kerry election, it’s the first time in modern political history in which income was not the primary determinant to partisan voting behavior.
What replaced in 2004, and has articulated since, was called religiosity. Not your religious faith, but rather the intensity of it, and the frequency with which an individual attends a church or synagogue, makes them much more likely to vote republican. Those who do so on a less frequent basis are much more likely to vote democrat. I’m not judging either way. Like Jon Stewart, I say, “I’m not that religious, I’m just sort of Jewish.” But the cultural and social determinants have have forced and accelerated that massive trade off. And in 2018 you saw frankly the daughters of those original soccer moms trimming the house democratic.
Marisa Lagos: Oh, about kids, I want to get to that.
Lisa García Bedolla: But everything you said is true for white voters, and so I think we need to remember white women have voted democratic once in a presidential election since 1948. They would split 50/50 in 2018. So those women who supported the democrats are actually women of color, so we need to remember not all women, and beyond that religiosity also doesn’t map onto folks of color.
Janelle Wong from Maryland has a wonderful new book on that. Even evangelical, Asians and Latinos have less conservative social positions than whites. So even with religiosity, we have to read really much more nuanced about thinking about how all of these different lines map, and the thing that is most aligned with republican party identification now, is being white, and so appreciating that race and party intersect in important ways that aren’t natural, that are political products but have real meaningful outcomes.
Dan Schnur: Lisa, can I insert one point quickly to address Lisa’s statement because she’s exactly right. I didn’t intend, I didn’t ignore minority voters not because they’re not a critical piece of the electorate, but because they’re not swing voters until the republican party becomes more competitive in addressing the concerns of African American, Latino and Asian Pacific voters. The primary challenge for democratic political strategist is not one of persuasion but of motivation, so that wasn’t to minimize their importance, but rather than talking about the context of voters who have in recent history have been available to both voters, but it was a friendly amendment.
Kristin Olsen: To speak to Lisa’s point though. that also provides both opportunity and risk for both parties. Right? That shows there is opportunity, but back to what’s happened to the republican voter, I think it’s all three. They are dying, right? If you look at the age demographics of how people are registering, republican voters are absolutely dying. They are moving, and they are reregistering or if not reregistering, they are at least voting differently in their patterns. Jeff Denham’s race for example; his reelection for congress. That’s the area I live in and it was clear if you look at his election results in terms of the numbers, republicans in our community voted against Jeff. And so not only are they dying, moving and reregistering, but they’re even voting differently. Many of them who are staying republicans, at least for now.
Mindy Romero: Great conversation. The only thing, I appreciate the freindly amendment you made. The only thing I would add to it, is just the California context. I think you touched on this earlier, but just in this conversation, we can’t deny the last 20 years, and the change over time that we’ve seen, with regard to particularly Latinos. But, many Californians have viewed the republican party. And a lot of that came out of proposition 187, which I think we actually haven’t mentioned yet today.
Much of the growth in the democratic party has been driven, not all of it, but driven by changes in Latina registration going more democrat. Also Asian Americans as well, both together. Latinos themselves are not a monolithic group. African Americans are more skewed democratic in terms of the registration, but still you have a decent percentage of Latinos that are NPP, but the dynamics that have happened over the last..
Lisa García Bedolla: 29 percent, if you want to be precise, 53 percent democratic.
They’ve been, yeah, they’ve been fluctuating a lot actually. So that dynamic is part of our history. It’s part of not just how voters see themselves and potentially how they engage, but also the organizing dynamic in the state. 187 gave us a little bit of a bump in terms of latino turnout in 1994. We didn’t see a sustained bump after that. I’m hoping we’re seeing some sort of change now, but you know, turn out disparity stayed roughly the same over the last couple of decades.
But what we did see that was sustained was the registration shifts tremendously impacted the overall registration skew of California. But also it created a whole group of particularly young Latinos that ended up becoming leadership within the Latino community and beyond in California to organize, to mobilize. There was some concern the last few years before Donald Trump, that maybe some of those folks were going to start dying out, and where were the next generation was coming from because being mobilized in that context is a very unique experience.
But now, we have Donald Trump and the Trump effect that potentially is going to give us a whole other generation of young people that are going to be out organizing and mobilizing, and being leaders. So I just wanted to put that context as well.
Marisa Lagos: So for me, having covered 2018 and particularly the congressional races, which I’ll just note as a journalist, was so interesting because California historically in my 15 years or so reporting here, we didn’t play in the congressional stuff, it was just: that’s happening somewhere else, and we focus on the governor.
This year, we went down to orange county, which I think is a microcosm of a lot of the things we’re talking about here. So to Dan’s point, I interviewed several, and this is anecdotal obviously, but several women who said basically, that moms are coming of the closet as democrats. And I heard stories about people who are canvassing, and women saying “Don’t tell my husband, but I’m voting for Katie Porter”. It was so fascinating because a, can you ever see a man doing that? “Don’t tell my wife”. No.
I think it speaks to some of the stuff we’re getting out about people who either left the party, or are in it but are not as sort of tied to those. But then also within the sort of racial and ethnic makeup, we’ve seen it would become a more diverse county. I’m interested to talk to you guys too, about how generational differences play into this because for one thing Paul Mitchell has told me is that he really sees a difference. For example, between first generation Asian American voting patterns and second generation, which also has to do clearly with what was happening when you immigrated, with the Vietnam War and things like that. Everything ties back to Trump right now. He’s going to start deporting Vietnamese folks. So that’s probably not going to be good for republicans in Orange County, but what do you see in that?
Lisa García Bedolla: Well, I think again, we really have to think about time horizon. I appreciate Mindy bringing out that context of 187. So there are a couple of people in this room that had been involved in organizing Orange County. That organizing started over 15 years ago. Right? So that didn’t just magically happen, that orange county flipped. It has been the product of sustained investment in infrastructure to bring those new young people into the system.
Marisa Lagos: But there was a sense that they wouldn’t really come out yet. Nobody thought that that was a foregone conclusion now, it was more projecting.
Lisa García Bedolla: I guess what I’m saying is these people, the moms don’t come out of the closet magically by themselves. All I’m saying is they’re organizing so just thinking about differences in voting patterns. Immigrant voters who were socialized, who registered during the 1990s, socialized under that context of racial threat, still vote at higher rates than U.S.-born voters, so that when you come into the system and what the context is in the system, the young people who are coming into the system now, we can probably expect to vote at pretty high rates. And so to appreciate that history matters, context matters, but all of those conversations with the doors, the organizing on the ground, the long term investments and infrastructures in different parts of the state, do have consequences and it’s not just a Trump effect.
Kristin Olsen: Can I add a little bit? So when you think about it what’s really unique right now, with lots of things that are happening, but when you think about these new voters coming into the electorate, we saw pretty high turnout in 2016, right? We saw high turnout in 2018. We’re all expecting to see probably pretty good turnout in 2020.
Mindy Romero: Highish for the United States. Can we just say it still is really low.
And I did make that point earlier. We’d want it to be higher than 50 percent of course, but high turnout for what we can expect at this point. We likely will have a high turnout year in 2020 no matter what your political affiliations and we all hope for that. Many of the factors that were in play and in 20, it’s not just Trump but Trump and the organizing dynamics certainly in play in 2016, 2018, likely in 2020.
Trump is going to be a factor no matter what. That means that we have this unique kind of situation at hand that we could have a whole cohort of voters that typically haven’t voted but now have voted, not just in one election because they got galvanized, but typically when we see a bump, the bump goes away, but a sustained bump of sorts. Again, presidential is not quite comparable to midterm and so forth, but a sustained bump in the sense that we have higher turnout over more than just one election. Does that make sense? That means that that’s an opportunity, at least as I see it, a really important opportunity and a responsibility, that we do, that we try to keep those voters sustained.
Now I think they’re much more likely to, just by patterns that we’ve already established, that we understand if they vote in one election, vote again in another election, that they are likely to continue to vote but also do the work to make sure that that happens. That we don’t let this historic opportunity go away and that it can’t be just about one candidate. Or one unique set of circumstances, that we make the case as we organize and engage folks about the longterm impact.
And I think many new voters are saying that it’s not just Trump or Sanchez or whatever the immediate thing. It is an understanding of the importance of participating in our system, and having a voice in having power and having a say. But, but I think definitely in our organizing efforts as we engage folks going forward is to make sure that that bigger case is made for sustained engagement.
Marisa Lagos: Keep that gateway drug going with that first voting. You also hear about how much more likely people are to vote if their parents do and if that’s something, just civic engagement in general.
I want to get you guys to weigh in on something though too, because one thing we saw in 2018 was a lot of controversy around turnout and suppression, right? So in other states like Georgia, it was allegations that the GOP was suppressing minority voters. Here, there’s a sense among Republicans that all of these new voting laws are opening up the door to fraud and that it’s a bad thing sort of. And I think, first of all, Kristin, isn’t that sort of an inherently a bad strategy for Republicans to think people shouldn’t vote.
Kristin Olsen: Absolutely right. And it’s part of the weave of problems that have left Californians feeling disenfranchised by the republican party, right? It sends a message that we don’t care about you, we don’t want you to, we don’t want you to vote, we don’t want you to be part of shaping your communities. Who would want to hear that? Right? I remember when Paul Ryan decried California’s ballot harvesting law, and we can talk about that, but what was the point? The law’s not going to change. So all he did is double down on the perception that republicans don’t want people to vote. Not helpful, not helpful!
Now having said that, there are challenges and actually some former democratic members of the legislature I think have been the most articulate, albeit more privately, about the challenges associated with ballot harvesting in Stanislaus county, in talking with the registrar of voters there. It was an intense job, being in the 10th congressional district, it was really tough and she had people bringing in. One woman brought in 625 ballots and you do have to wonder what is going on? She got one complaint. They would get several calls, but this was the one that was startling to her, of a gentleman who called, an elderly man who called and said he felt very harassed and they said they wanted to come into his house, help him with his ballot in his kitchen. “Give me your ballot and I’ll take it down for you.” And he just felt very uncomfortable and intimidated.
Now, do I believe that happened to the extent where it had a statistically significant outcome on election results? I don’t know that I would say that, but do I say it’s the best way to build trust in the voting electorate and to ensure fair and objective elections? I wouldn’t suggest that either. What I would suggest is decrying it sends a message that’s not helpful to the growth of the party. And what I would also say is the republican party shouldn’t have been surprised. This had been law for two years. They got out gamed, out strategized, out mobilized, and they should’ve been better prepared.
Marisa Lagos: But Dan, we also just heard that a lot of voters aren’t being reached. They aren’t being talked to. I think in one area, I actually am generally pretty pleasantly surprised with how much voters seem to, if you look at complicated ballot measures often, it’s like wow, people actually did the research. But one race where that did not seem to be the case was the US senate race where Kevin de Leon beat Dianne Feinstein in places like Del Norte in Central Valley red. It seemed to me like that was a vote against Feinstein, perhaps more than a vote for the author of the sanctuary law.
Dan Schnur: I think that’s probably right. He says with some understatement. What had happened, and it’s actually fairly straightforward, is Californians, republican and democrat have, even if they haven’t learned a lot about Dianne Feinstein over the many years she’s been in office, they know enough about her to associate her with either a party they like or a party they don’t. Kevin de Leon for all of his admirable qualities, does not inspire that same association, positive or negative. So for a relatively low information voter, who knows a lot about Dianne Feinstein and doesn’t know anything about Kevin de Leon. A Democrat says, “I know I like Diane Feinstein I don’t who this de Leon is, so I’m gonna vote for her.” A Republican says “I know Dianne Feinstein and I’ve been voting against her since 1990. I don’t know who this de Leon is, so I’ll vote for him.” But I don’t think there was a considered strategic approach there.
Kristin Olsen: I think it’s more than that. I’ve been looking at this a lot, and after the returns that are available today, I want to study it some more, but I think it’s very reflective of the current political environment in which we’re living. I’ve been born and raised in the San Joaquin valley. I’m raising my kids in the San Joaquin valley. We have been a longterm historical vote, the central valley that is, for Dianne Feinstein. She is viewed in our communities as somebody who’s pragmatic, somebody who’s been good for us on issues related to agriculture and water, somebody who’s willing to work with both sides and build consensus to deliver results for California. That’s been longterm political views of her in the central valley.
That changed dramatically this year and Kevin de Leon was the alternative that people to go to who had less name ID. People are much more familiar with SB 54 and the sanctuary state, than they are familiar with the fact that he was the author of it. That that’s just not very well known within communities. Dianne Feinstein during the Cavanagh hearings, and during many other episodes throughout congress this year made a strategic decision. It didn’t hurt her in the end, but maybe strategic decision, to move leftward in the way she communicates, in the way she carries herself. Now that may have been a good or bad strategic political decision for her, but the fact is she did that and it was noticed. I heard about it all the time from people in the central valley. “What has happened to Dianne Feinstein? We’re going to have to vote for somebody else.” It shows the political polarization, that maybe their short term gain with longterm loss.
Dan Schnur: I think Kristin’s points are very valid. I will take a backseat to her clearly on her knowledge of central valley voters. And there’s no question that Feinstein did some positioning. It’s worth noting that a candidate who based on her campaign in 1990 on her switch in support of the death penalty for example, last year announced that she had reconsidered her decision. I’ll just say this, agreeing admiring what Kristin has just offered, that if the voters of California had precisely the same of information available to them about Kevin de Leon that they’ve developed over the years about Dianne Feinstein, he would have done much better on the left, and probably not nearly as well on the right.
Marisa Lagos: To my original, sort of maybe muddled point, is that voters in your area were being communicated with a lot, because of the congressional races. Voters in reliably read places like the northern part of the state probably weren’t. And so they just were sort of voting a little more blind perhaps then. Anyway. So we’re going to open up the questions to reiterate. Um, I’ll call on you. Wait till you get the microphone. And this gentleman back there was very quick, so..
Audience member 1: I’m wondering what the panel thinks about which elements of the “for the people act” of 2018 are most likely to actually make it out of congress and be signed into law.
Marisa Lagos: I believe that’s HR1, that’s the voting laws.
Mindy Romero: Yes. Isn’t the better question “which piece of legislation will ever make it out of congress”? I think there’s lots of things that should be bipartisan, that should actually be no-brainers, but I wonder if in the current context, those things that people do agree on whether that will be possible, and then whether the president would veto it out of spite. So I feel like there are lots of things in that bill that I think both sides could probably find common ground on, but I’m not sure the current environment makes it possible for that to happen, at least not in the short term. Maybe in the summer when people stopped paying attention. Right now, especially with the 2020 race already started. I don’t know what other people think.
Audience member 2: Hi, Kristin, I’m wondering, or others, what is the message or policy that you would see that would appeal to rebuild the republican party with either the NPP voters or other existing constituencies are among the core democratic party support, that would sort of revitalize the republican party in your view?
Kristin Olsen: So I don’t claim to be the holder of truth on this, but what I would suggest I think provides a possible road map, would be issues surrounding affordability and economic mobility, whether that has to do with housing, whether that has to do with education opportunities, certainly income inequality between various regions of the state. But I think if the party could capture the affordability message, and how the policy offerings of the party in control over the last decade or so have increased the cost of housing, have increased income inequality, have increased poverty levels. Then there’s an opportunity to fill that space with alternative solutions, so people can see their cost of living go down and their opportunity to increase their economic opportunities goes up.
Dan Schnur: If I may, as a former republican, once again, I think Kristin is exactly right. Housing issues, transportation issues, job creation, public safety issues, educational issues, all provided, potentially fertile turf for the republican party in California, but as long as the party is perceived as being so angry and holding so much animosity toward immigrants, and in particularly toward undocumented immigrants, none of those issues are going to be heard. I’ll defer to many others on this point as the token angry white male, but my suspicion is a republican candidate is not going to be heard by the voters that we’ve been talking about on issues of transit and issues, affordable housing, on issues of school choice. As long as that voter thinks that, that politician thinks that their family’s voter is something less than human.
Kristin Olsen: That’s absolutely right. In fact, we’ve spent a significant amount of money. We’ve talked about this before, on something we called the California republican project. Figuring out what is wrong with the republican brand in California. Is there an opportunity to resonate with voters? And it showed on policy issues, that opportunity is there. And the fact that the republicans are letting the democratic caucuses lead right now on issues of housing and stuff is a total failure, but what it showed, is the number one problem is Californians think republicans don’t care about them and until that dynamic changes and you build trust in the mind of the voters, they’re not ready to listen to the policy solutions and offerings that I believe that republicans have an opportunity to deliver, so they first have to really work on rebuilding trust, and demonstrating that we care about people in their communities. Dan’s absolutely right about that. That has to be done first and perhaps simultaneously with the caucuses and the party offering real solutions on issues related to affordability.
Marisa Lagos: All due respect, I think that republicans like John Cox tried to do that, but he didn’t actually offer any solutions. He just talked about that, right? You can’t just talk about it. You have to offer solutions and I think that offering some of the solutions is going to cost money. That’s pushing republicans out of their comfort zone in a way, that so far the people who are in elected office in California are trying to be, haven’t been willing to go out and say, yeah, we need to invest here, you know what I mean? Because I’ve found covering that campaign frustrating for that reason because you can’t just talk about what’s broken. If you’re running to run the biggest state in the nation, you’ve got to offer some way to fix it.
Kristin Olsen: So this was a real problem in the party and the caucuses when we were doing this project. Some wanted to argue that this is just a messaging problem, this is just a branding problem. So if we start talking about things differently, then we’re going to make a lot of headway and we’re going to win elections again. Now talking about different things differently in messaging, and using the right language is critical. It’s absolutely important, but that in and of itself is insufficient. You also have to have policy substance behind the messages and the and the rhetoric that you’re delivering. As we’ve talked about a little bit earlier, it’s still within the context of the national republican party, so no matter what the California republican party does or did really. Now with the Trump effect with Trump in office and with voters not having a lot of time or access to information, I’m starting early. It’s extraordinarily difficult because of that overarching view of the republican party.
Marisa Lagos: Okay. We have about 10 minutes and I see like five more hands, so we’ll move through quick.
Audience member 3: This is for Kristin, wasn’t there there a huge debriefing around 2008, 2009 by the republican party about why they’re losing to a black man, and they came up with, it sounds like exactly what you were recommending today, to reach out, look friendly, be inclusive, not be so hostile towards these people who demographically are having more and more of the voting public. So they rejected that then, and did exactly the opposite and they got a white nationalist elected who really hates all those people with some vigor. So what do you expect this to go anywhere? I mean, what you’re recommending is that right? You’ve been recommended by a large internal group of republicans doing this big debriefing of the loss.
Kristin Olsen: Yes. Your knowledge is absolutely correct. He is referring to a report that was very substantive that the RNC did, showing a path forward for republicans across the nation, and they’ve done nothing with it. In fact, they’ve turned significantly the other direction, and so it is hard to remain optimistic. That’s why many of us are considering: Do we need to explore something different? Does it need to be a new party or a new movement or can we get back to the fundamentals of that report and try to rebuild from ground zero?
Audience member 4: Thank you. I’m curious if you have any insights on turnout among voters who requested ballots in languages other than English in 2018 and if there’s any trends to point to increase turnout among them or anything else.
Mindy Romero: Good question. Yeah. I don’t have those numbers with me. We have them. The only thing that I would caution is, that the voters that are registered, requesting their ballot materials in another language are not the population of voters that necessarily need, of the entire population of voters that need language assistance. It’s very specific of those voters, that knew about it that are specifically requesting it. So I take a huge caution when I utilize data like that, because it often is misinterpreted by the public because it’s just people that are actually choosing it on their form, but are unaware of it. That makes sense? But I do have some of the data, I just don’t have it with me.
Audience member 5: I’d like to confirm what Kristin said about what happened in district 10. I was one of the thousands of people who went there to canvas.
Kristin Olsen: We hope you all spend a lot of money..
Audience member 5: …for Josh Harder and we were instructed not only to take absentee ballots, but if the voter hadn’t filled it out, to offer to come into the home and help them fill out that ballot. And the reason why I’d like to mention this is in case there are any political consultants in the room, because I’d like to tell you that was an extremely bad idea, so I had the good sense…
Marisa Lagos: People did not respond well to that?
Audience member 5: I didn’t do such a thing. It struck me as an absolutely horrible thing to do, but I was canvassing with the people I’d ridden with. They were perfectly willing to do it.
Kristin Olsen: We need to have a sensitivity. I mean, I have canvassed in and have had people invite me into their home, but that’s very different than inviting yourself into their home. Right?
Marisa Lagos: This woman on the purple right here been trying and then we can go.
Audience member 6: You’ve mostly spoken to candidates. What is the changing demographic meaning for initiatives, like what happened with the rent control…
Marisa Lagos: Oh, I feel like rent control would be its own thing. I think. I think we should just say that failed because it wasn’t well written. It was not well structured. It was not well executed. I think probably schools and communities at first in 2020 will be a much better barometer of demographic change, because that’s going to basically change prop 13, and if we manage to do that as a state, I think prop 55 is a much better barometer that we voted for the second time. But, Californians voted to tax themselves. That’s a big change. If we manage to change prop 13, I think that speaks to a fundamental shift in the framing of politics in California by democrats.
I want to say that initiatives are a really different animal. If you talk to consultants and some of the things I brought up about how I was targeted, you see these strange bedfellows within initiative campaigns, you see strange enemies, and I think that to the point about the big tent in Sacramento, it provides a lot of challenges within the party when you have consultants who were kind of working on opposite sides than they normally would.
Kristin Olsen: I think you’re going to see more people start to play in that space though. Not that they haven’t played in that space of special interests I call it, in the past. but there’s an opportunity with initiatives that doesn’t currently exist within the candidate elections structure, and that is if you look at a lot of data and reports and analyses, Californians are much more moderate or conservative for lack of a better word when it comes to issues, than they are with candidates.
So a lot of things that may have been attempted in the legislature before from say your moderate democratic wing, or you’re republican wing may instead be tried at the ballot now instead of through the legislature. I would not suggest that’s a positive necessarily, but in the absence of an alternative, I think that’s where people are going to move.
Audience member 6: Hi. You’ve spoken to the role of imputation relying on outdated assumptions about the voters. UCLA’s Lorrie Frasure-Yokley’s recent book discusses the increasing racial diversification of suburbs, which have been thought of as traditionally white and she projects that this is going to continue. Given that our political assumptions are slow to acknowledge these changes, what do you think are the implications for reaching out to voters in some of the swing and slightly conservative suburban districts.
Mindy Romero: I guess the shortage of data really needs to improve, but part of the reason why the data doesn’t improve, is because nobody asks them to make it better. Well, people ask, but not the campaigns in general. The folks who run campaigns, we have a panel later today where we’re going to talk about how the vast majority of people who run campaigns, are the same people who’ve been running campaigns for the last 20 to 30 years and they have their secret sauce and they keep doing it over and over again.
And I’ve done work looking at how campaigns are run. I was looking at clean money campaigns across the country and states as different as Maine and Florida, and the political consultants brought in had a white likely voter strategy in Florida.
So I think until we change the orientation and we actually believe we need to change the electorate, and bring people in rather than treating the electorate as fixed, those folks are never going to get called even if they’re in the suburbs. And so I think that the shift on both sides of how we do outreach and how we bring people in to the conversation, that needs to change fundamentally. And to do that, you need better data, but you also need different people asking for the data.
Audience member 7: Can I see a show of hands: How many have looked into the science of anger? So if Trump won because we didn’t know how angry they were. It turns out that our professionals that deal with anger, psychotherapists, were tested for their ability to read anger. They’re zero percent accurate. After they use a metric they’re 95 percent accurate.
Dan Schnur: So I don’t know how many other people would have raised their hands, but I have studied this. So what I’d suggest to the group is I think what we know, not just as researchers, but as teachers, as parents, is that underneath most angry people are frightened people. And I think that conversation for another day on a panel with people, these four and somebody much smarter than me, is to talk about how effective political leaders, effective political leaders, on both sides have found a way to capitalize on that fear.
Once again, I’ll come back to the point I made earlier, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in this regard too have much more in common than I think either one of them would care to agree with, but both motivated and mobilized very aggrieved portions of the electorate on the basis of the anger/fear that this gentleman alluded to. The challenge going forward, not for a postmortem discussion but for another, is identifying and supporting those political leaders that instead of leveraging those fears for political gain, find the voice to reassure frightened people, that those fears can be overcome.
Mindy Romero: And I just don’t want to name what’s underlying the fear because all the studies that came out of 2016 said that Trump voters were middle income, racially resentful whites, right? So Diana Mutz’s study, says it wasn’t economic anxiety, it was somewhat sexism. But if you look at what motivated people’s vote, was racial resentment and fear of change. So until we address that part, and if you look at 2018, that was successful when Trump brought those fears out again, it was very successful, and that’s what happened in Florida and that’s part of what happened in Georgia. So we need to really address those fears of resentment and, or the underlying resentment, and figure out how to address that, because otherwise it’s not just anger, it’s anger in a very particular frame.
Lisa García Bedolla: And then if I may, on the flip side, also because I think you were also, Dan, you were alluding to, you can correct me, but the fear that folks feel on the other side of the spectrum in terms of voting because of Trump, because of the policies that he has. And that’s really real, right? So that type of thing.
Marisa Lagos: Right, that’s different. That’s kind of what you talked about 187 and the grassroots movement that came out of that, which was initially fear, but became something more hopeful I would hope so.
Dan Schnur: I’ve taken off my microphone, so I offer this real quick. It’s about two frightened groups of voters. One group of voters that, toward Mindy’s point, fears that they are being unjustifiably deprived of their share of the American dream and another share of equally frightened voters who believe that the American dream that they believed in is being taken away from them. Lisa’s point is exactly the right one. You address those fears directly and you overcome them.
Mindy Romero: And I was just making a quick point about policy basically. So for many folks that voted against Trevor came out because of his policies. In 2016, it was the fear of the rhetoric that was used in the fear of what might happen in 2018, it was for many people, living with the impact of the policies in their lives and their communities. So to overcome that actually does really, for those folks require real policy change.
Marisa Lagos: And maybe hope. Yeah. All right. Thank you guys. This was awesome.