No-shows in the California primaries are a warning for Biden

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

No-shows in the California primaries are a warning for Biden

California Politics, 2024 Elections

George Skelton

April 1, 2024

They’re almost done counting votes from California’s primaries and the news isn’t good for President Biden.

Sure, he won. He faced virtually no opposition and easily captured California’s largest bloc of delegates in the Democratic National Convention. There was never any doubt about his reappointment for a second term if she were a candidate.

But the troubling news for Biden is that hundreds of thousands of Democratic and independent voters who cast ballots in the March 5 primaries have skipped and ignored the presidential election.

Look, the presidential election is at the top of the ballot. How much effort does it take to mark the name of a sitting president who is known to all? It requires no boning, unlike a complex voting proposal.

But many more people voted for the government. Gavin Newsom’s Proposition 1: The mental health measure at the end of the state ballot.

Typically, voting drops off after the top of the ticket, rather than people skipping the top, notes Mark Baldassare, pollster for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California



The fact that many voters disapproved of the presidential election raises two questions, Baldassare says. Will they repeat that in November? So will they support a third party or independent candidate like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?

That wouldn’t hurt Biden in California. He is assured of California’s 54 electoral votes, the largest cache of any state. The modern Republican Party is unable to win statewide elections in California.

But California voters are not entirely unrepresentative of the nation. Their lack of enthusiasm for Biden is a reflection of Democratic attitudes at the national level, polls have repeatedly shown.

And it could cost Biden in half a dozen battleground states where even a small loss of support from Democratic or independent voters could tilt the race toward Republican Donald Trump. It’s not that these voters would side with Trump over Biden. But they can sit out the race entirely or go back to a third-party type. That’s what scares the Biden camp.

On the right, however, Trump’s support base is solid.

And that honestly surprises me. About two million Republicans in California voted for a lying, rude, fraudulent con man.

In addition to being charged with 91 crimes and inciting a deadly insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, the former president recently warned of a bloodbath if he lost the election and is now shamelessly using modified Bibles for profit. Let America pray again is his pitch.

Okay, the carnage warning referred to the economic impact of offshore car production and his plan to raise tariffs on foreign-made cars. But is carnage the kind of language we want the American president to use when discussing tariff policy or conducting international diplomacy?

When Trumpers are asked why they can vote for such a base jerk, they invariably say that the alternative Crooked Joe is worse.

Except that doesn’t explain their votes in the California primaries. Biden was not on the Republican ballot. Trump’s only active opponent was Nikki Haley, a respectable Republican former governor and United Nations ambassador.

People want to vote for the person who is going to be the winner, Republican consultant Matt Rexroad told me. They think Trump is going to be the winner and want to be on board the train.

Trump carried all of California’s counties and won about 80% of the Republican vote. Haley got about 18%.

In the Democratic vote, Biden collected about 89%, about 3.2 million votes.

To put that in perspective, there were 10.3 million registered Democratic voters. In addition, there were 4.8 million independent voters with no party preference who could have voted in the Democratic presidential primaries just by asking for a ballot.

We make voting super easy in California. Each registered voter will receive a ballot with a postage-paid return envelope. And you still have a month before Election Day to vote.

Despite this, voter turnout in the elections was very low. It appears that about 34% of registered voters are casting their ballots. In 2020, presidential primary turnover was 47%.

Democrats in California outnumber Republicans almost 2 to 1.

But during these primaries, a greater percentage of registered Republicans actually voted than Democrats or independents.

Paul Mitchell, director of Political Data Inc., tentatively estimates Republican turnout at 43%, compared

to with

37% for Democrats and only 23% for independents.

A significant number of Democrats just skipped the presidential race, says political analyst Tony Quinn, a former Republican redistricting worker who has crunched voter numbers. Numbers don’t lie.

Quinn calculates that total turnout was about 7.7 million voters. But of those, about 1.7 million rejected 22% of voters in the presidential election. By comparison, fewer than 500,000 voters skipped Proposition 1 and the battle for the U.S. Senate.

It is currently impossible to break down the total number of presidential votes in each party primary. But a PPIC pre-primary survey asked likely voters how excited they were about voting for president this year. The independents were largely unmotivated. Democrats were about evenly split between enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts. But most Republicans were very enthusiastic.

Democrats aren’t eager to vote, Rexroad says. But Republicans are incredibly angry about the way the White House is functioning.

And when I’m at the gym, people talk about how Biden is going to stumble down the stairs.

Ah yes, the age issue. Biden is 81 but mentally acute. Trump is 77 and acts like a spoiled brat of seven.

Voters are despondent, says former Democratic strategist Darry Sragow. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world and they are desperate for strong, competent leadership.

The primaries in California showed that Biden still has a lot to convince.


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