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October 8, 2003

the California recall

I've been looking at the California recall election results as measured by exit polls. I note a couple of interesting points:

1. For those of us in the youth civic engagement business, it's interesting that 25-29 year-olds were the least likely of all age groups to support the recall. 18-24's were more likely, but they still lagged the older generations. So this was not a case of millions of young people turning out for Arnold. On the contrary, they were his weakest constituency. One possible explanation: our surveys show that young people are less distrustful of government than older people are. So maybe they were less taken by the idea that the bum needed to be thrown out of office. Also, they may be more savvy (or cynical?) about celebrities.

2. There was a strong ideological color to the results. Voting for the recall were: 24% of liberals, 56% of moderates, and 85% of conservatives. To me, this is good news. I don't regard the election as a failure for democracy if Arnold won because his views most closely approximated those of the median California voter. (Or more precisely, the median California voter preferred Arnold's likely policies to those of the actual incumbent.) I would view the election as a major fiasco if a majority of Californians voted for Arnold because they were completely perplexed by the mess in Sacramento, blamed it on professional representatives, and just wanted a charismatic, macho guy to run things better.

California has been badly governed, but the problems are structural, and any solution would require very difficult tradeoffs. To assume that a movie star could balance the budget by force of will would reflect a deep lack of civic competence and responsibility. However, this is not what most people assumed. Forty-one percent of voters opposed the recall--I suspect on strictly ideological grounds (i.e., not liking Davis, but agreeing with his positions). Many of the rest voted to get rid of Davis for ideological reasons. Indeed, 38% of the electorate were Republicans, voting against a Democratic governor. Those Republicans, plus the anti-recall Democrats, added up to a majority who were trying to shape state policies in line with their policy preferences�the definition of electoral democracy. Meanwhile, only a minority conformed to the Hibbing/Theiss-Morse thesis about American politics. (This is the view that Americans lack policy preferences but believe that politicians are a corrupt class; thus we would always be better off with some one else in charge.) Unfortunately, the anti-political minority decided this particular election. Let's hope they get a better government than they deserve.

October 8, 2003 12:37 PM | category: none


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