Deep inside a new USC/Los Angeles Times poll are details that could make the California Republican Party, and by extension its cohorts elsewhere in the country, fear anew the march of time and demographics.
California right now is an extreme example of the nation, to be sure: more ethnically mixed and younger than most states, and riven for 20 years by a hobbling GOP civil war that now is surfacing dramatically elsewhere in the country. But if California is on the leading edge, as opposed to an outlier, the poll serves as confirmation that long-term problems loom for Republicans.
Take party registration: Among white California voters, almost four in 10 are Democrats and four in 10 are Republicans. But among Latinos 55% are Democrats and only 15% are Republicans. Among black voters, 76% are Democrats and 4% are Republicans. There were not enough Asian voters to accurately assess, but overall, minority voters are 54% Democratic to 14% Republican. (Just more than one-quarter of minority voters are registered independents, a group that generally votes Democratic in California.)
The collision between ethnicity and age is even more lethal. Six in 10 white voters are over 50, making them prized in the present but not dependable in future decades. The reverse is true for Latinos, 64% of whom are age 49 or younger. Overall, among all voters, 35% of those 50 and over are Republicans; of those younger, only 23% were.
Already those younger and minority voters — 38% of the voter pool — are propping up Democrats in California. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has a positive job approval rating of 55% overall. Among white voters the rating is 51%. Among black voters, it is 67%, Among Latinos, it is 61%.
Other poll findings suggest no end to that imbalance. Asked their political ideology, 31% of those ages 49 and younger describe themselves as liberal, to 29% who say conservative. That is close to the opposite of those over 50, only 26% of whom say they are liberal to 38% conservative.
Personal experience, events and candidates can prompt change, of course; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s larger-than-life candidacy in the 2003 recall upended the usual ethnic and ideological breaks , as to a lesser extent did his 2006 reelection campaign.
But after he left the stage, normalcy returned. And apart from the unlikely chance of another Arnold-like candidacy, there are few dynamics that could alter the current trajectory.
At this point, Republicans in the state largely continue to weigh against immigration reform and Obamacare, two key issues that help to define candidates for minority voters. And there’s not much to remake the GOP from the inside: The growing numbers of Latino voters in their ranks have applied consistent policy pressure on Democrats, but there’s no parallel pressure on the overwhelmingly white Republican party.
[For the record, 2:37 p.m. PST Nov. 12: An earlier version of this post transposed Brown’s support among black and Latino voters and misstated percentages of voters calling themselves liberal or conservative.]