LOS ANGELES, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- With 98 percent of precincts reporting, California's two main Republican candidates had combined to win a stunning 61 percent of the vote. The victor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, garnered 48.0 percent and third place finisher Tom McClintock took 13.3 percent. (The recall of Gov. Gray Davis passed with 54.6 percent.)
This represents a massive improvement for the GOP over the last three California elections, when its gubernatorial candidates won 38 percent in 1998 and 42 percent in 2002, and George W. Bush picked up 42 percent in the 2000 presidential race.
Demographically, the decisive change Tuesday was that white voters came home to the Republican Party. Indeed, Schwarzenegger won more votes from whites alone (about 35 percent according to the exit poll of 4,172 voters conducted by Edison Media for a consortium of media outlets) than his rival Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante won from all ethnic groups combined (32.3 percent).
Most electoral analysis articles focus on minority voters, especially the growing Hispanic segment, but the 800-pound gorilla of voting groups remains non-Hispanic whites. This is true even in California, where the Census Bureau estimates that whites made up 45 percent of all residents in 2002.
Due to higher rates of citizenship, adulthood and turnout, whites are much more heavily represented among voters in immigrant-rich California than among residents. Non-Hispanic whites cast 69 percent of the votes Tuesday.
That's about average for the last three California elections, in which the white proportion ranged from 64 percent in 1998 (prompting numerous premature pronouncements about the end of white domination of the state's electorate) to 76 percent in last year's long and dull race between Davis and political novice Bill Simon, which resulted in a record-low turnout, especially among minorities.
In each of these elections, according to exit polls, the GOP candidate failed to win a majority of the white vote. On Tuesday, however, the two main Republican candidates combined to win a crushing 65 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote. That's the kind of enthusiasm for Republicans normally seen among whites in the South, not in California.
In Davis' landslide first victory in 1998, whites who voted Republican made up 28 percent of the electorate. In Davis' narrower re-election last year, GOP-voting whites comprised 35 percent. This year, they comprised 45 percent of the voting public.
The GOP total in this election clearly benefited from having two attractive candidates with views spanning much of the center and right of the ideological spectrum. The moderate Schwarzenegger is one of the world's most famous men, and the conservative McClintock emerged from the election with the highest favorability rating of the top three candidates (54 percent favorable, compared to 51 percent for Schwarzenegger and 37 percent for Bustamante).
One key event during the election was Davis' signing of a bill to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in early September. He had previously vetoed the bill because it did not included security checks he had said were necessary in the post-9/11 environment, but this time he signed it without the safeguards he had earlier demanded. Bustamante strongly supported the bill.
This backfired on the Democrats, proving unpopular with Californians. In the exit poll, voters opposed driver's licenses for illegal aliens 70 percent to 24 percent. This wasn't broken out by ethnicity, but in an earlier Field Poll majorities of whites, blacks and Asians were against it. Even among Hispanics, who are widely (but erroneously) assumed to universally favor illegal immigration, 34 percent disagreed with the bill.
The two Republicans combined for 39 percent of Hispanic votes (Schwarzenegger 30 percent, McClintock 9 percent), which is unusually high for California Latinos, who are more Democratic-leaning than Latinos nationally. But, the GOP also got 23 percent of blacks, which is well above their average, as well. It was a very good day for Republicans overall.
The exit poll found that Hispanics comprised between 17 percent and 18 percent of the vote, a high. But total minority voting was still below the 36 percent level seen in 1998, due in part to a sharp drop in black voting (6 percent this year).
Overall, Republicans turned out and Democrats did not. Going into this year Democrats enjoyed a lead in registration of 45 percent to 35 percent, but the exit polls showed that just as many of the actual voters Tuesday saw themselves as Republican as considered themselves Democrats.
Similarly, more voters said they approved of the job George W. Bush is doing as president than disapproved (50 percent vs. 47 percent). That's better than Bush's approval rating among California residents in the Sept. 16 Field Poll, in which his positive approval trailed 48 percent to 46 percent. This suggests, once again, that more Republicans showed up to vote, while Democrats were uninspired.
The long predicted tidal wave of liberal union votes failed to materialize, with 52 percent of union household members voting Republican.
Among self-identified homosexuals (4 percent of the electorate), Republicans took 35 percent, up from 10 percent in 2002.
Schwarzenegger did best among 30-44 year old males. These include his movie fans from his glory days of 1984 to 1991 -- his extraordinary hot streak from "Terminator" to "Terminator 2." He did less well among younger males, who know him best from his less successful later films like "Jingle All the Way" and "Eraser."