Independent thinking

On California’s true colors and the coveted no-party-preference voter

California’s an all-blue all-the-time state, right? Certainly it’s understood we’re going with the incumbent in the presidential race, which is why the Golden State is spared the TV carpet-bombing that the poor folks in battleground places like Ohio and Nevada have endured for months.

We should be grateful for that blessing. But as far as California being all about indigo, that’s not so true.

The latest statistics show Democrats are 43.3 percent of California’s 17.1 million registered voters, down from around 47-plus percent when President Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Republicans are at 30.1 percent and falling. (Based on their public utterances, apparently, this is by choice.) And no-party-preference voters stand at 21 percent and some change: almost 3.7 million people.

No party preference” is what California calls folks who aren’t signed up as Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian or whatever other flavors are out there. They tend to be young—18 to 39—better educated, distrusting of government, more forgiving on social issues, more likely to be informed through social media.

And that’s one reason why “no party preference” doesn’t really cut it as a definition of these folks. “No party preference” sounds like something written on an Internet-dating questionnaire to euphemistically describe an undiscriminating willingness to perform the horizontal mambo. But “no party preference” is a major step up from “decline to state,” which is what indie voters used to be called.

Judging from the no-party-preference tag, it would seem that upward of 3.7 million Californians would rather jab needles in their eyes than spend 30 seconds seated next to a scummy Democrat or putrescent Republican.

Not exactly. No-party-preference voters actually have preferences, according to an August Public Policy Institute of California poll on the subject. The PPIC says 43 percent of likely “independent” voters lean Democrat and 30 percent Republican. (Shocking, eh? A mirror of the state’s overall voter-registration statistics.)

The remaining 27 percent says a pox on both parties. Well, sort of.

From the same poll, 59 percent of independents say they’re down with same-sex marriage. Two-thirds of independents say jack up taxes on the wealthy until their wallets bleed.

Then again, independents can be just as divided as party-affiliated voters. Legalization of marijuana: 49 percent for and 46 percent against. Death penalty for first-degree murder: 50 percent say warehouse the scum bucket, and 46 percent say stick a needle in the rat bastard.

And, as if this hasn’t yet been parsed six ways from Sunday, although a majority of indie voters tilt Democrat, 55 percent say the Democratic Party sucks, 61 percent say the same thing about the Reps and another 56 percent think the tea-party chuckleheads bite.

Clearly, not a monolithic group of voters. And are they ever fickle. Nationally in 2008, independent voters went with Democrats by an eight-point spread. In 2010, they broke with Republicans by 19 points.

In the old R. Crumb cartoons, someone invariably says, “What’s does it all mean, Mr. Natural?”

It may, in fact, as Mr. Natural usually answers, not mean shit. Independent voters could just take a pass this time around.

A large-scale independent opt out hurts the president. But it doesn’t significantly enrich former-Gov. Mitt Romney and the GOP, either, except in so far as there are less votes for the Democrat.

The fear is if these alleged independents are so alienated, they’ll actually bogart the party the PPIC says they generally align with.

It’s not by accident that President Obama doesn’t stand under banners trumpeting “Change” this time around. He’s the “Forward” guy now. The tag implies, of course, his opponent is “Backward,” and encouraging “Change” might lead someone—like, say a recently graduated from college independent voter who can’t find a job—to switch his or her political allegiance.

And, as president of the United States in a difficult election year, that would be very, very, seriously bad.