An analysis of California’s youth vote by the California Civic Engagement Project concluded that strong youth electoral participation is critical to achieving a robust and fully representative democracy. However, since the passage of the 26th amendment in 1971, California youth registration rates have consistently fallen far below those of the general population. (CCEP Policy Brief Issue 2, October 2012).
A 2004 report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) highlighted the national decline in civic engagement over the last two decades and noted sizable differences in participation associated with race/ethnicity and immigrant generation and language use. These conditions have not changed. The authors of the report concluded that the dramatic racial and ethnic changes under way in California today may worsen rates of civic engagement thereby aggravating problems such as economic and educational inequality. (Ties That Bind: Changing Demographics and Civic Engagement in California).
This low level of participation has long-term implications for civic engagement in California.
Regions with the greatest disparity in eligible youth turnout also have some of the poorest social and economic outcomes for their youth. For instance, the Los Angeles, Northstate and the San Joaquin Valley regions all have the highest poverty levels (14.8%, 18.5% and 20.8%, respectively), as well as some of the lowest high school graduation rates in California. Youth in these regions have less of a voice in the resource and policy decisions that impact their life outcomes. (CCEP Policy Brief Issue 5, March 2013).
In California, where direct democracy through initiatives and referenda has become an important feature of the policy process, the question of who votes is particularly important.