THE GOP'S PROBLEM WITH INDEPENDENTS
Since the recall campaign, Republicans in California have had reason to be upbeat. Not only did they retake the governor's office in midterm, but they continue to narrow their longstanding voter-registration gap. According to the latest voter registration data released last week by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, the Democrats' share of all voters has dropped by 5.7 percentage points over the last 10 years and now stands at just 43.2 percent. Although Republicans have seen their share shrink as well, it has not gone down as dramatically — just 3.2 percentage points, to 35.7 percent.
Where have all the voters gone? Increasingly, they are becoming independents — in California, the official term for that is "decline to state." That segment of the voter pool has grown by well more than half over the last 10 years — from 9.4 percent in 1994 to 16.2 percent.
The bad news for state Republicans, as reflected in last week's Public Policy Institute of California poll in advance of the March 2 election, is that California independents strongly side with Democrats, and on many issues almost exactly match the views of Democrats as a whole.
Consider these numbers:
Do you favor gay marriages? Democrats, 57 percent; Republicans, 23 percent; independents, 54 percent.
If the presidential election were held today, would you vote for a Democratic nominee over President Bush? Democrats, 85 percent; Republicans, 11 percent; independents, 61 percent.
Are you concerned that the government will enact anti-terrorism laws that excessively restrict civil liberties? Democrats, 64 percent; Republicans, 34 percent; independents, 61 percent.
Do you believe that the government should not interfere with a woman's access to abortion? Democrats, 82 percent; Republicans, 59 percent; independents, 77 percent.
The poll does show one interesting point of divergence between Democrats and independents, however: in their assessment of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Asked if they approve of the governor's job performance, 58 percent of independents said yes — well above the 44 percent of Democrats.
Taken together, the numbers suggest that if Republicans want to build on the recall success, the route they need to follow is Schwarzenegger's. While no other candidates will be able to match his name-identification and charisma, those who adopt his moderate views on social issues might be able to win the hearts of independents — that is, if they can make it past the Republican primary and get the opportunity to present their views to the entire electorate..