State GOP Suffers Slow Seismic Shift

The changing face of California politics washing clean in new poll.

The California Republican Party has failed to keep pace with the state's evolving demographics over the past 30 years, signaling further trouble for a party that has been slipping in popularity, according to a poll released Tuesday.
A new Field Poll illustrates the changing face of California and its electorate since 1978, providing a wide snapshot of a state in transition. It also shows how the California GOP has changed at a much slower pace over that time.
The party has increased its share of Hispanics, blacks, Asians and others since 1978, when those groups accounted for just 7 percent of the GOP, but the changes have lagged shifts in the state's overall diversity, according to the poll released Tuesday.

Presently, about 79 percent of Republican Party members are white, even as whites in California's population have dropped from 69 percent in 1978 to less than 43 percent, according to the Field Poll.

Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said the Republican Party's failure to keep pace with the demographic shift is a potentially ominous sign for its future, particularly because of the independent voters who are becoming increasingly influential in state elections.

The makeup of nonpartisan voters, who account for 20 percent of the California electorate, is similar to that of the Democratic Party. Some 45 percent of registered Democrats and 41 percent of independents are considered ethnic, or nonwhite voters, according to the survey.

"There has been some change, but not at the same pace as change in the overall electorate," DiCamillo said of the state GOP. "It really is a function of how the party chooses to define itself."

Broadening its reach has become a top priority for the California Republican Party, which has seen its share of registered voters plummet in recent years to 32 percent, 12 percentage points behind Democrats.

It launched a program earlier this year to build networks in every ethnic community and occupational niche in the state, hoping to recruit a diverse array of candidates for local and statewide office.

"Absolutely, the Republican Party cannot become a governing majority in California without dramatically increasing its reach into communities where we have underperformed in the past," GOP chairman Ron Nehring said in response to the Field report.

The Field Poll released Tuesday is the first of two intended to survey California's social and political landscape over the past 30 years. The first looks at ethnic and voter registration changes, while a report due out Wednesday examines changes in voter attitudes on a variety of issues.

Other demographic changes in Tuesday's Field Poll report include an increase in the state's population from 22.8 million in 1978 to 38.3 million. Also, white, non-Hispanics' share of the state's registered voter population has decreased from 83 percent to 65 percent.

And, Republicans have shifted from the coast to inland counties; some 37 percent live in inland areas today, up from 22 percent. Sixty-eight percent of registered voters are age 40 or older, an increase of 10 percentage points from 1978.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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