The solid performances of many Democratic candidates in the California primaries will have reaffirmed in the minds of many Republicans what they have thought for a long time: that the Golden State is a lost cause. The recent polling numbers collected on leaders in the Grand Old Party do not help assuage Republican concerns, either. In May 2018, for instance, when national Trump approval ratings hovered in the low 40 per cent range, his ratings in California were even lower, around 30 per cent. The GOP-controlled Congress, meanwhile, registered only a 24 per cent approval rate.
However, closer examination of the data reveals that California is far from the liberal fantasyland which many make it out to be. On the contrary, political views in the state are moderating. When voters are asked about their ideological leanings rather than their party allegiances the numbers are fairly balanced. Pooling statewide surveys from the Public Policy Institute of California over 2017, 36 per cent of Californians identify as liberal to some degree compared to 33 per cent identifying as conservative – a trivial difference and hardly consistent with the view of California as a beacon of progressivism. The remaining 31 per cent, by the way, identify as middle of the road.
Secondly, the electoral geography doe not indicate the existence of impenetrable strongholds. The widely used metric for a polarised, landslide county is when 60 per cent or more of the voters are registered for one party; in 2018 not one of the state’s 58 counties met this definition. In the 1960s almost 60 per cent of California’s counties met this landslide standard, but partisanship declined markedly between then and 2002, since when the number of landslide counties has been consistently at or near zero. Only in four counties does one party have more than 55 per cent of the total number of people registered. All are concentrated in the Bay Area, with none in the Los Angeles region.
California’s secretary of state provides registration data for the state’s 53 congressional districts as well and they, like the counties, reveal very little polarisation. Only two of California’s congressional districts are landslide districts at the 60 per cent level — one in the northern portion of Alameda County and the other in the southern part of Los Angeles. This is down from four districts in 2016. At the 55 per cent level, seven districts are landslides. Not even Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s traditionally progressive San Francisco-based 12th district qualifies as a landslide district.
It is hard to argue, then, that any one party is particularly dominant in the Golden State. California is not a liberal fantasyland and conservatives exist in significant numbers – it is just that their voices are not being heard. This is presumably due to poor party GOP organisation, position taking, and candidate-placement.
California has long been a harbinger for national change and there is no reason the Republicans should give up on it. It is anything but lost to them.