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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|
|San Luis Obispo||50,679||44,828||5,851||95,507||0.061|
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?
- You could put it into cutting down the margin among Los Angeles County’s 2.25 million voters.
- You could put it into cutting down the margin among the next three counties’ 1.08 million voters.
- You could put it into cutting down the margin among the next 22 counties’ 2.1 million voters.
- You could put it into building up the margin among the other 28 anti-30 counties’ 1.23 million voters.
- You could put it into building up the margin among the 3 OC-neighboring anti-30 counties’ 1.74 million voters.
- 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.