Issue LXXXII: The Future Calling from California?

18 Aug

A couple of months ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom told HBO that California today is what the future of America looks like.  A typical line from a California governor, but he ended the interview saying that the Republican party of California has reached “third party status” and the national Republican Party “doesn’t even know what’s about to hit them.”  He felt sorry for them.

Is this bluster or is there something real to be said about this?  What does this say or predict about Texas in the future if indeed Texas is in transition as California was between 1980 and 1992?  When more than 20% of all Americans live in Texas or California, what does it say about America?

The Republican State that Once Was

California entered the national stage as a Union state supporting the party of Lincoln.  It produced three Republican presidents: Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.  In fact, Southern California brought us the modern Republican Party of suburbs and automobiles.  Orange County epitomized sunny selfishness and right-wing lunacy.  Ronald Reagan described it as Republican heaven.  The John Birch Society, Focus on the Family, Pentecostalism, and Hollywood all started or flourished in the warm Pacific sun of SoCal.  Its referendum process even brought us anti-tax politics (Prop 13) in 1978 and anti-immigrant politics (Prop 187) in 1994.

While Confederacy-supporting Texas was part of the Solid Democratic South, it elected only two Republican governors in the 20th century.  California was the opposite with only four Democratic governors in the 20th century; two of them were father and son (Edmund and Pat Brown).  Texas became solidly Republican between 1978-1998 while California became solidly Democratic between 1992-2010.  I showed how the former happened last year; now I demonstrate how California flipped.  I began my analysis in the 1950s when the modern two-party system began in California with Pat Brown’s election as governor.


Presidential Peaks

At the presidential level, California voted for the Republican every single election between 1952 and 1988 except one.  The Democrats usually batted around 3.2 – 3.7 million votes in the same period.  Their candidates for governor never surpassed 4 million until 1998 and sometimes did not even make 3 million.  But both parties were growing their vote for president; the Republicans just grew faster.

The Republican vote grew from 3 million in 1950s to 5 million in the 1980s.  Their favorite sons Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan both won 49 state landslides for president in 1972 and 1984 respectively.  But the beginning of the end started between those two spectacular triumphs.  Between the 1972 and 1984 landslides, the Democrat/liberal vote began to grow from 3.475 million in 1972 to 3.742 million in 1976 to 3.823 million in 1980 (including liberal independent John Anderson’s votes) to 3.922 million in 1984.  California’s population was around the same size as Texas today.

California also began to have an exodus in the 1980s of conservative whites to other Mountain West states who brought their politics with them.  Focus on the Family relocated to Colorado Springs.  Two million whites left the state over the decades.  Los Angeles transformed from the backbone of the Republican Party into a growing Democratic stronghold.  No Republican would win LA County after 1984 for president.

Getting to 5 million

I noticed a pattern when looking for the tipping point in California elections.  I kept coming across the number 5 million.  Once the Democrats reached 5 million votes for Senate, President, or Governor, the Republicans never won another election in that category.  Michael Dukakis moved the needle to 4.7 million in 1988 and won Los Angeles despite losing California.

But Bill Clinton in 1992 took over 5 million votes and the state never voted for a Republican again for president.  That same day, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein got elected to the Senate with more than 5 million votes.  No Republican has come close to winning those seats again.  And the Democratic presidential vote has continued to grow since 1992 to 2016 by 3.6 million votes.  California traditionally is a low turnout state, but with the state now promoting voting, there seems to be no apparent ceiling to the Democratic presidential vote.

The last traditional Republican politician to win the governor’s mansion was Pete Wilson in 1994 with 4.7 million.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victories in the 2000s never had more than 4.8 million votes.  Once the Democrats hit 5 million votes in 2010, the gubernatorial races became increasingly comical.   First, Republicans faced a Democratic Party that kept growing and growing.  Then they had a bigger problem.  They began to shrink.


What Decline looks like and the falling ceiling

Between 1960 and 2004, a landslide presidential win for either party was a margin of 1.2 to 1.5 million.  In fact, George W. Bush received more votes for president than any Republican in the history of California in 2004 with 5.5 million votes; that was just a smidge more than Ronald Reagan’s 5.46 million in 1984 when California had 9 million fewer people.  After 2004, it spirals downwards.


Declining Republican Presidential Vote

Year Democrat Republican Margin
2000 5,861,203 4,567,429 1,293,774
2004 6,745,485 5,509,826 1,235,659
2008 8,274,473 5,011,781 3,262,692
2012 7,854,285 4,839,958 3,014,327
2016 8,753,788 4,483,810 4,269,978


Republican presidential nominees now routinely lose the nation’s largest state by 3 million votes.  The maximum number of votes a Republican can get for governor, president, or senator seems to be around 4.7 million.  The last year a Republican cracked 5 million for president, senator, and governor are respectively 2008, 1988, and never.  The presidential vote is down a million since Ronald Reagan’s 49 state landslide of 1984.

GOP Meltdown Continues

What about Newsom’s quip about the Republicans becoming a third party?  Can they lose even worse?  Yes, the wipeout only gets worse after 2016.

The reversal in the OC has been swift, rapid, and complete.  First, Hillary Clinton won Orange County, the first Democrat to do so since the Great Depression.  Then Gavin Newsom wins every coastal county from Mexico to Oregon in a 3 million vote landslide for governor.  When all the mail in votes are counted, every single Republican in Congress lost in Orange County in 2018.  Finally, after a few months, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Orange County.

In Sacramento, California’s Republican legislators used to wield power because the budget and new taxes required a two-thirds vote from the Legislature.  Now the State Assembly has gone from a 54%-46% Democratic majority to a 77%-23% Democratic majority in 20 years.  Republicans can’t even block a budget anymore with the Democratic supermajority.

Republicans even failed to make the Senate election in November 2016 and 2018 under California’s new top two system.  How long before their gubernatorial candidate fails to make the November ballot?  Could we get a Green Party or DSA candidate against a Democrat if the Republicans become a non-entity in the future?

The consequences for the Electoral College are even more disastrous.  The larger and larger margins in California make it potentially impossible for the Republicans to win the popular vote.  Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.86 million votes.  Without California, she would have lost the popular vote by 1.4 million.  If Donald Trump had lost California by the typical 1.2 million votes as Republicans used to before Obama, Donald Trump would have won the national popular vote by 100,000.  As wins in Texas become closer and closer, California becomes a bigger shaper of the national popular vote.  This is a profound problem for democratic legitimacy of any Republican president in the future.

One Response to “Issue LXXXII: The Future Calling from California?”

  1. Cranjis McBasketball August 18, 2019 at 10:09 pm #

    I swear to god, my life is so much better reading this blog. I enjoy life better. Food tastes better. Time spent with my loved ones is more fulfilling.

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