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As Republicans make big gains nationally, California stems the tide

November 2, 2010 |  8:26 pm

Once again, California seems to be bucking a national tide. Across the country, today’s electorate appears to have been more conservative and Republican than the voters who turned out in the last couple of elections. But in California, that appears not to be the case.

And that’s a big part of why Republican candidates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are projected to lose their races for governor and U.S. Senate. Both needed a strong conservative turnout to make up for Democrats’ big edge in party registration in California.

Indeed, strategists for Whitman consistently denounced pre-election polls by The Times and other organizations that showed their candidate trailing in recent weeks. The polls were underestimating Republican turnout and projecting an electorate that looked too much like 2006, which was a strong Democratic year, the Whitman strategists said.

But judging by exit polling, which shows a strong conservative tide elsewhere in the country, the conservative surge did not materialize in California. This year’s electorate ended up looking a lot like 2006, according to exit poll data from both years.

Conservatives made up 33% of the California electorate this time around, according to preliminary results from this year’s California exit poll. Four years ago, the figure was 30%. Liberals made up 27% this time, compared with 25% four years ago. The percentage of self-identified moderates dropped to 40% this time, compared with 44% in 2006, the exit poll showed.

A similar pattern showed up when the exit poll asked voters what party they usually identify with. This time around, the results were 42% Democratic, 31% Republican and 27% independent. That compares with 40% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 25% independents in 2006.

The California exit poll, part of the National Voter Pool survey, was conducted for The Times by Edison Research. The National Voter Pool is a consortium of the major television news networks and the Associated Press. The survey was conducted at 50 polling places among roughly 2,200 election day voters and was supplemented by a telephone survey of roughly 600 voters who cast ballots by mail.


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-- David Lauter

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images