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The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Why Californians Vote Less Than Others

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Why Californians Vote Less Than Others

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There was merely a trickle of early voters in Dallas.

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California has some of the lowest rates in the country for voter registration and voter turnout, according to a new report from the Census Bureau.

This is no surprise.

The country's largest and most diverse states -- California, Texas, Florida -- have long trailed the rest of the United States in measures of political participation and civic engagement. In general, the colder a state is, the better it does on voter registration and other political participation measures, with Minnesota and New Hampshire.

On the other side, Hawaii -- a perpetually warm and diverse place full of people from someplace else -- trails in these kinds of studies.

California's low voter registration rate is in part a product of the fact that a big percentage of its voting-age population of more than 27 million are non-citizens, and thus ineligible to vote.

But even controlling for that, the state could be doing better, with more than 17.1 million people registered among the estimated eligible population of 23.6 million, according to the most recent report from the California Secretary of State.

Why don't Californians do better?

The short answer is: political participation appears to be a product of social connection, and Californians are not connected closely to each other.

People who study civic engagement ask questions like: Do you eat dinner often with your family? Do you know and work on community problems with your neighbors? Does your family discuss current events?

The answers to those questions tend to be yes in places with high levels of voter registration and participation.

But Californians, according to surveys like the California Civic Health Index, are less connected to their families and communities on these kinds of measures.

Explanations for why have to do with everything from the size and sprawling nature of California to the cultural and ethnic diversity that can make it harder for Californians to communicate with your neighbors.

The good news is that we can do better -- not merely by registering to vote but by making time to know our neighbors, see our families, and talk with each other about how we can improve our neighborhoods.

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