State Democrats Fail by Not Picking Low-Hanging Orange County Voters: Prop 30


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This will be the first part of a series on why the California Democratic Party, its individual members, its caucuses, and groups and individuals sympathetic to it, make a huge huge mistake in writing off Orange County as nothing more than a piggy bank.  Indeed, I suspect that further analysis will show that $1 spent in Orange County is more effective at advancing statewide contests than $1 anywhere else in the state — because we are so far down and yet with just a little help can move up appreciably.

One great example of this is, of course, the election of Sharon Quirk-Silva in AD-65 — which I and others had been screaming about as a possibly decisive seat since the tentative district lines came out, and more loudly since Sharon got into the race — giving Democrats the coveted 2/3 of the vote in the Assembly.  But the largest recurring example of this is in statewide races — such as in 2010, where Orange County was the major impediment to electing Kamala Harris as Attornry General — and in many initiative races right up through this month.

The initiative races this year weren’t all that close in the end — no squeakers like Prop 29 earlier this year — but they will serve to illustrate why a strong functioning Democratic Party in Orange County is critical to Democrats statewide.  Let’s look first at Prop 30, which won by about 8%.  (These figures are from a few days ago.  I’m waiting on most of the other analyses to get those final figures, but for now this will serve to introduce the concept of the outsized effect that OC has on state elections.

Why look at counties?  After all, a vote for Prop 30 in the most antagonistic county (Modoc) per capita counts the same as the one in the most favorable county (San Francisco) per capita which counts the same as the most even divided per capita (Lake.)  I think that it’s worth looking at counties as our unit of analysis because that’s largely where the structure of the state party resides.  It costs less to target three voters in any of the above counties than it does to target one voter in all three of them — and the means of targeting them can be coordinated at the county level.  Critically, a failure in leadership at governance at the county level can be disastrous for the state — especially for the largest counties.

Strategy and tactics can be more easily manipulated at the county level than at most other levels.  So I am not arguing that closely divided San Joaquin and Ventura Counties are unimportant because each delivered a net vote of less than 5000 votes for or against Prop 30 — clearly better (or worse) policies can be implemented to affect voter outcomes there just as they can in more ideologically imbalanced counties.  I’m arguing that one can imagine policies being implemented to improve the vote in Ventura County in a way that they cannot be as easily implemented in districts that cross county lines.  (In a sense, this is like arguing why China, with the same population as an aggregation of smaller countries, is on its way to become the next global superpower: plans can be made and effectuated at the national level that aren’t so easily done at the transnational level.)

This chart lists all 58 of California’s counties (plus the statewide totals at the top) along with five variables aside from their names: the number of raw votes for and against Prop 30, the margin by which it won or lost a county, the total votes cast in the county, and the number of votes cast per capital for or against Prop 30.  (The theoretical range of this final column is between +1.0 and -1.0.)  I’ve ranked them according to the middle of the five variables, “margin.”

COUNTY # YES ON 30 # NO ON 30 MARGIN ON 30 TOTAL VOTES PER CAPITA
STATEWIDE
5,011,953
4,288,437 723,516 9,300,390 0.078
Los Angeles 1,351,925 904,675  447,250 2,256,600 0.198
Alameda 281,330 105,544 175,786 386,874 0.454
San Francisco 209,754 63,393            146,361 273,147 0.536
Santa Clara 262,434 160,146            102,288 422,580 0.242
Contra Costa 194,893 132,894            61,999 327,787 0.189
Sonoma 113,219 59,254            53,965 172,473 0.313
San Mateo 125,043 72,747            52,296 197,790 0.264
Santa Cruz 58,213 21,882            36,331 80,095 0.454
Sacramento 173,675 142,920            30,755 316,595 0.097
Marin 56,827 26,471            30,356 83,298 0.364
Monterey 48,491 27,339            21,152 75,830 0.279
Solano 67,748 48,336            19,412 116,084 0.167
Yolo 37,715 21,307            16,408 59,022 0.278
Santa Barbara 67,703 52,759            14,944 120,462 0.124
Humboldt 28,854 16,932            11,922 45,786 0.260
San Luis Obispo 50,679 44,828            5,851 95,507 0.061
Napa 18,023 13,572            4,451 31,595 0.141
Imperial 15,543 11,388            4,155 26,931 0.154
Mendocino 11,056 7,009 4,047 18,065 0.224
Stanislaus 55,442 51,516 3,926 106,958 0.037
San Benito 7,508 5,744 1,764 13,252 0.133
San Joaquin 74,168 72,719 1,449 146,887 0.010
Merced 25,619 24,426 1,193 50,045 0.024
Alpine 351 279 72 630 0.114
Lake 8,064 8,009 55 16,073 0.003
Mono 2,425 2,380 45 4,805 0.009
Sierra 681 1,077 -396 1,758 -0.225
Trinity 2,314 2,733 -419 5,047 -0.083
Del Norte 3,543 4,253 -710 7,796 -0.091
Inyo 2,609 3,789 -1,180 6,398 -0.184
Colusa 2,243 3,536 -1,293 5,779 -0.224
Modoc 1,208 2,736 -1,528 3,944 -0.387
Plumas 3,668 5,391 -1,723 9,059 -0.190
Mariposa 2,927 4,839 -1,912 7,766 -0.246
Glenn 3,375 5,561 -2,186 8,936 -0.245
Lassen 3,328 5,681 -2,353 9,009 -0.261
Tuolumne 7,451 10,664 -3,213 18,115 -0.177
Siskiyou 6,895 10,350 -3,455 17,245 -0.200
Amador 5,874 9,351 -3,477 15,225 -0.228
Butte 32,576 36,254 -3,678 68,830 -0.053
Yuba 5,558 9,240 -3,682 14,798 -0.249
Nevada 13,166 17,320 -4,154 30,486 -0.136
Calaveras 6,990 11,237 -4,247 18,227 -0.233
Tehama 6,353 10,788 -4,435 17,141 -0.259
Ventura 121,724 126,483 -4,759 248,207 -0.019
Sutter 7,594 12,767 -5,173 20,361 -0.254
Kings 12,413 17,656 -5,243 30,069 -0.174
Madera 12,370 19,552 -7,182 31,922 -0.225
Fresno 71,721 84,745 -13,024 156,466 -0.083
Shasta 19,851 33,109 -13,258 52,960 -0.250
Tulare 27,304 40,650 -13,346 67,954 -0.196
El Dorado 27,208 44,768 -17,560 71,976 -0.244
Placer 48,521 75,767 -27,246 124,288 -0.219
San Bernardino 201,412 235,320 -33,908 436,732 -0.078
Kern 66,234 100,400 -34,166 166,634 -0.205
Riverside 220,114 279,413 -59,299 499,527 -0.119
San Diego 368,879 436,791 -67,912 805,670 -0.084
Orange 349,147 527,747 -178,600 876,894 -0.204

The influence of Orange County will differ depending on the margin of victory on an ideologically divisive proposition, but the closer the proposition is the more that OC is likely to make the difference.  I like this example because if you take only the counties that voted against Prop 30, you’ll find that roughly 1/3 of it was Orange County, 1/3 was our neighbors in San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego, and 1/3 was in the other 28 anti-Prop 30 counties combined.  (The same is roughly true on the pro-Prop 30 side as well: about 1/3 of the margin came from Los Angeles County, about 1/3 from Alameda, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, and about 1/3 from other 22 pro-Prop 30 counties combined.)

So that divide counties into six groups.  Now, if you had $1,000,000 to spend against Prop 30, where would you want to put it?

  1. You could put it into cutting down the margin among Los Angeles County’s 2.25 million voters.
  2. You could put it into cutting down the margin among the next three counties’ 1.08 million voters.
  3. You could put it into cutting down the margin among the next 22 counties’ 2.1 million voters.
  4. You could put it into building up the margin among the other 28 anti-30 counties’ 1.23 million voters.
  5. You could put it into building up the margin among the 3 OC-neighboring anti-30 counties’ 1.74 million voters.
  6. You could put it into building up the margin among Orange County’s .88 million voters.

Orange County would be the easiest choice administratively (being one county), and it would give you the most bang for the buck (fewer voters there), and would require going after higher-hanging fruit.

Now flip that — say that you’re with the Democratic party and its allies and you want to spend money for Prop 30.

Which is administratively easiest?  Orange County.

Which potentially gives you the most bang for the buck?  Orange County.

Which allows you to go after the lowest-hanging fruit?  Orange County!

You don’t have to do anything particularly sophisticated in OC to drain the last drop of juice out of it.  You can just use standard, tried-and-true, basic political persuasive methods — because by and large they aren’t being done that well right now and providing more resources (while assuring better leadership) is likely to have a stronger effect.  It’s like, to switch metaphors, climbing up a 3% grade instead of a 30% grade.  There are 530,000 registered Democrats here, even leaving aside independents!  But Prop 30 only got 350,000 votes!  That’s a lot of good produce left in the fields to rot!

I don’t know if statewide Democratic leaders don’t get this or just don’t trust the present party leadership to implement it — but it seems clear: this is the way to win statewide races.  Go after the low-hanging fruit!  And, among California counties, the low-hanging fruits are disproportionately Orange’s.

We’ll look at other races in the weeks ahead.


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.