California Is An Alternate Universe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


The Union has just seceded from California.

While the rest of the country was electing Donald Trump and returning Republican Congressional majorities, California turned an even deeper shade of blue. The Golden State delivered a drubbing to The Donald. Hillary Clinton piled up a 2.5 million vote margin over Trump, swamping him 62% to 33%. Even that erstwhile bastion of conservativism, Orange County, voted Democratic—for the first time since the Great Depression.

Thanks to California, which gave the former Secretary of State a 2.5 million popular vote margin, Clinton achieved a Pyrrhic electoral victory, becoming the second Democratic Presidential nominee in 16 years to win the popular vote and lose the election.

Trump won with gangbuster support from the nation’s rural areas and small towns; California is the least rural, most urbanized, state. But it wasn’t just the Presidential vote that showed California existing in an alternate universe, out of orbit from the rest of the country. Although there may be no change in the makeup of the state’s Congressional delegation, Democrats were able to win back their super-majority in the State Assembly and maintain their Senate simple majority. No Republican even made the runoff for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat.   Moreover, the state’s voters veered left on a variety of issues, passing ballot propositions supporting, among other things, bilingual education, gun control, a cigarette tax and legalization of recreational marijuana. An initiative to repeal the death penalty was defeated in a relatively close contest.

What separates California from the middle of the country? There are several factors. First, things are going pretty well here. The Golden State’s economy is buzzing with a thriving tech industry, entertainment, healthcare and well-paying logistics jobs created by the state’s position as a world trade hub. As California has become the most diverse state, we’ve gotten over a lot of the anxiety associated with multi-culturalism and the assimilation of immigrants into the community. The combination of improved economic conditions and Governor Jerry Brown’s frugal hand have produced fiscal stability in Sacramento.

Although California wasn’t a Presidential campaign battleground, the state’s Democrats still turned out in droves. There is every indication that Latino turnout was heading toward a record, in large part because that electorate was anxious to vote against Trump. The swing states that went for Trump, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin have relatively sparse Latino populations. California is the harbinger of demographic changes facing the nation at large.

How the Trump administration will function in Washington is as hard to predict as his march into the Oval Office. It is doubtful that California can expect much in the way of financial backing or cooperation from inside the Beltway. Likewise, the Golden State will inevitably be at odds with Trump and the Congressional Republicans over immigration reform, trade, healthcare, climate change and a host of other issues.

There are Californians, alienated politically and culturally from Donald Trump’s America, who are flirting with the “S-word”—secession. Since Tuesday’s election, the hashtag #Calexit (our very own Brexit) has been trending on social media. It seems highly implausible that the Golden State can morph into the Golden Country. But, since Trump’s victory, a few high-tech entrepreneurs have pledged funding for the movement.

California’s “outsider” status has even gotten the attention of the state’s Democratic legislative leadership. A statement they issued on Wednesday states, “Today, we woke up like strangers in a foreign land.” And it’s a foreign land with the world’s 6th largest economy and a YUUUGE population. Down the line, California, whether within or without the U.S.A., will need to be reckoned with. Big League.

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