Friday, November 05, 2010

California dreamin'

Guest post by J.S. Norquay

J.S. Norquay, which may or may not be his or her real name, is a former midwesterner, documentary filmmaker, and academic who now toils deep inside a large public sector institution in eastern Canada.

California has the third highest unemployment rate in the United States at 12% (Nevada and Michigan are higher). So why did the Republicans' red wave not make it to the Golden State? Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown won big while the Democrats lost just a single House incumbent. The answer should be considered encouraging for Democrats – it was the Latino vote and those of other minorities. As Nate Silver pointed out, the pollsters underestimated the Latino vote in places like California, Nevada, and Colorado. This explains why Harry Reid was behind in the published polls but won comfortably.

One can account for Reid's and Colorado Senator Michael Bennett's victories in part by the fact that they faced Tea Party fruit cakes like Sharon Angle and Ken Buck. But demographic trends suggest California could be the future of America, a place where minorities will play an increasingly important political role, particularly Latinos.

The exit polls from California report that the electorate on Tuesday was 62% white and 38% minority (22 points of which were Latino) compared to a 78-22 ratio nationally. Like elsewhere, California whites voted Republican -- for Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman. (The poll is not broken down by age and race, but it seems likely that a majority of whites aged 18 to 29 voted for both Boxer and Brown).

And the Republican strategic approach to the election didn't matter. As the L.A. Times noted:

California Republicans had multiple reasons for head-shaking on Wednesday. For decades, the state party has squabbled over whether success would come more easily to candidates running as conservatives or those who presented a more moderate face to the state's sizeable bloc of independent, centrist voters. This year they tried both. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina ran a firmly conservative race and Whitman took a more moderate road.

The problem for Latinos, simply put, is Republican attitudes on immigration as reflected in Fiorina's support for Arizona's new anti-immigrant law (Whitman was opposed). Three quarters of California Latinos have an unfavourable view of Republicans. And their share of California's population continues to grow.

California endorsed the state's efforts to curb climate change by rejecting a proposition aimed at rolling them back. In California, Obama's favorability ratings remain strong. Ideologically, the Democrats should be listening to Californians, not trying to make nice with Republicans east of the Sierra Nevadas.

Back here in the east, all the leaves are gone and the sky is gray.

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