The voting patterns Vlad Kogan points out aren’t unique to San Diego (“Why Democrats Lose City Elections and How They Can Win,” June 21, 2011), but his story invites a broader view of the role of demographics in local politics.
Kogan doesn’t scratch the surface beneath partisan registration to examine why turnout and down-ballot voting may be lower among Democrats. He treats Democrats and Republicans as equivalent populations in all but their choice of party. Of course, in San Diego as across the country, the profiles of partisan voters differ considerably in age, race, and socioeconomic status.
For example, retirement-age voters in the city are evenly split between the major parties. But among San Diego’s registered voters younger than 35, Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one. In that under-35 group, 90% have voted no more than twice in the last four general elections, compared with 30% out of those 65 and up. Age is also a prime factor in drop-off voting in down-ballot races, and similar disparities appear in other demographic categories.
Nowhere in his article does Kogan mention decline-to-state (DTS) voters, who are 3% away from outnumbering Republicans in the city. In San Diego, one third of new voters who have registered since 2007 are DTS. The electoral behavior of these independents is even spottier, but no party or campaign can afford to ignore them.
Turning out occasional voters is indeed difficult and resource-intensive — and absolutely necessary for Democrats. In the close local races Kogan cites, we would now have two additional Republicans on the San Diego City Council if the Democratic Party had not mounted robust voter identification and get-out-the-vote operations.
As for other campaign tactics, Kogan’s assertion about the Republican Party’s “incredibly successful” member communications effort is simply unfounded. Our County Democratic Party has won the majority of recent elections in which both parties ran major member communications programs for their candidates.
The Obama surge of 2008 carried a wave of Americans to the polls for the first time in their lives. Getting those voters to keep turning out, and to fill out their ballots completely, is a challenge that Democrats not only acknowledge, but embrace.
Where our party seeks fuller participation, our opponents have a record of suppression and obstruction. In state after state, Republicans are pushing for photo ID laws that disproportionately raise barriers to voting in some populations, including youth and people of color. In San Diego, the Republican Party has sued the city in a frantic attempt to block the Redistricting Commission from drawing lines that would empower our increasingly diverse communities.
Higher turnout and down-ballot voting would tend to benefit Democratic campaigns in San Diego — or anywhere else. But the implications for our democratic system of government are even more important. Until the electorate more closely resembles the population, expanded political engagement should be an overarching priority for our whole community.
Ryan Hurd is the executive director of the San Diego County Democratic Party. He lives in University Heights.