06 November 2014

What Democrats' Domination of California Predicts About Which Faction of the GOP Will Control the National Party

On average, Democrats won California House races by nearly 19 percentage points Tuesday, winning 70%  of the districts and beating Republicans 2 to 1 (or more precisely, in 37 of 53 districts). It might be that California is out of sync with the nation. It might also be that it's still out in front. If the latter, this isn't necessarily bad news for all Republicans - just a particular kind.

We have an open primary for our Representatives in California. The top two vote getters face each other in the general election, whether one is Democrat and one is Republican or whether they're both from the same party. The idea is that even in districts that tilt strongly in one direction, the final representative of that district has to appeal to the whole district, not just those voting in her party primary. The result is that Republicans or Democrats can end up with zero votes in the general election in any one district. And this happened.

Democrats were completely shut out in 2 districts and Republicans in 9. (To that put that shutout in context, only 12 states other than California have more than 9 Representatives.)  In nearly 40% of the state's districts (21), Democrats won by at least 2 to 1.

Democrats get their support from odd places. Most of the nation would not be surprised to hear that the 44th district - an area of south LA which includes Compton and has only 7% white population - did not cast a single vote for Republicans in the House race. But they might be surprised that in District 17 - a region that includes Santa Clara and the headquarters for Apple, Intel, Yahoo, and eBay - Republicans were also shut out. The 14th district is in the heart of Silicon Valley, including legendary Sand Hill Road (home to the biggest names in Venture Capital), Stanford, and Facebook Headquarters. According to one 2006 report, it is the third wealthiest district in the nation. In this 14th district, the Democrat got more than 3X as many votes as the Republican candidate. The two most affluent districts in California - the 33rd that includes Malibu and the 18th that includes Palo Alto - are solidly Democratic. The average income in Democratic districts is actually slightly higher - $72,609 - than Republican districts - $71,274.

The Republicans get their support in a couple of different segments of California: the farming areas (particularly around Bakersfield, where the new House Speaker is from) and Stockton in central California, and Orange County and San Diego's East County in the south.

Part of the difference seems to come from source of income. Folks in Silicon Valley are products of universities. Menlo Park - in the 14th district mentioned above - has one of the most educated populaces in the country. 70% of the adults there have advanced degrees. These folks - whether or not they are rich - are biased in favor of supporting R&D and education and they aren't much bound to tradition. For them, same-sex marriage is just another innovation, like blue-tooth or wireless. (Tech-savvy San Diego nearly sent an openly-gay Republican to DC. It's safe to assume he would not have won the Republican primary in many states.) They aren't threatened by change. It's their business. Disruption might be one of the terms most bandied about in Silicon Valley.

By contrast, the biggest city in the 25th district, where Democrats got zero votes in the House election, is Palmdale. It's biggest university isn't actually a university but is instead the community college and its two biggest employers are defense contractors. In such a community there is less support for disruption. There are other more affluent and educated places that support Republicans in the state. The 45th district - which includes UC Irvine - is in Orange County and conforms to some of the popular stereotypes about rich, white, conservatives.

California might represent the nation's future, both in terms of its reliance on education, its acceptance of individual choice (whether in gay marriage or women's choice) and its portion of minorities.

More regions are trying to replicate Silicon Valley's success. As they do, they'll learn that this encourages a disregard for traditions that libertarian Republicans will embrace more quickly than the party's social conservatives. And a real embrace of innovation typically encourages immigrants, something many of the GOP core get antsy about. A Kauffman Foundation study showed that a quarter of the CEOs or lead technologist in US technology companies founded between 1995 and 2005 were immigrants.

Also, California is one state where everyone is a minority. Blacks make up about 7% of the population, Asians 14%, Hispanics 38.4% and whites 39%. Every decade, fewer states will be as white as Vermont and Maine (the country's whitest states, each more 96% white).

The Economist once said that what the US was to the rest of the world, California is to the US. And what California is to the US, the Bay Area is to California. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom was the first official to legalize gay marriage. That's swept the nation. Palo Alto was granting business licences to Venture Capitalists before the rest of the nation had heard the term. That, too, has swept the nation. If California - and the Bay Area in particular - is the future, though, that isn't necessarily bad news for Republicans. It is, instead, just bad news for some segment of them.

While folks in the Bay Area pity social conservatives, lumping them in with folks who have rotary-dial phones, they take libertarians seriously. The notion of self-organizing complexity - the thought that markets could self-correct to regulate behavior - actually seems to them like a proposition worth considering, even if they aren't fully bought in.

At the national level, though, Republicans include folks who deny climate-change and evolution, people who oppose a woman's right to choose and same-sex marriage. Any party that includes such candidates will never win a majority vote in the Bay Area. Or soon, the country.

The Republican Party may already realize this. One stark contrast from the 2012 election is the fact that very few - if any - Republican candidates were caught making outrageous statements like, "If a woman has really been raped she can't get pregnant." The GOP seems to have silenced its social conservatives. And in that, too, the country is following California's lead. Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was pro-choice. San Diego's new House Representative Carl Demaio is Republican but he's also gay. Voters around the country didn't just sweep in Republicans in record numbers. They voted to legalize marijuana and defeated anti-abortion proposals. This suggests a libertarian rather than traditionally conservative tilt.

It's the libertarians within the Republican Party who will increasingly define it. The face of this new Republican could be Rand Paul or outspoken libertarian Peter Thiel - the venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal with Max Levchin and Elon Musk who - of course - rose to fame in Silicon Valley.  This, of course, raises a whole new set of questions but for now I think it points clearly to a particular kind of future for Republicans.

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