Stop Repeating the Lie About the OC Turning Blue

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

While I’m glad to see Trump-era Republicans suffer humiliation and worse, the headlines about “Orange County Turning Blue” really upset me.

That framing – the O.C. Is Now Blue — represents how awfully anti-democratic American politics has become.

The idea reflects the “winner-take-all” thinking that poisons our politics. When results and elections are close, we don’t share power or representation. The winning politician or party gets it all.

“Winner take all” thinking is how you end up describing a narrow lead in registered voters (of fewer than 1000 voters as of this writing) by one party as the political turnover of a county. There’s an authoritarian, even militaristic cast to this, as though Orange County has fallen to the blue piece in some California version of the game Risk.

Here is the reality. Orange County isn’t a blue county or a red county. Indeed, both parties are weak—with 1.8 million active voters, both parties have less than 1/3 of the registered voters in the county (548,000-plus for the Democrats as of this writing, 547,000-plus for the Republicans). Both parties are decidedly minority parties.

Indeed, the number of unaffiliated voters – or No Party Preference voters—is at 440,000 and rising, thus gaining on both parties.

What’s more, more than 600,000 adults in Orange County aren’t registered to vote—at least they aren’t listed as active voters. That number is larger than the number of Democrats or Republicans. (And the number of people not old enough to vote in the county of 3.2 million is even higher—more than 700,000—but that is another story).

And even in high-turnout elections, the number of non-voters vastly exceeds the number of voters in Orange County.

The real story in the county is not of some Democratic wave. It’s the story of two weak parties, and weak political participation. This is the real California story. 

So please, let’s stop talking about turning places blue, or red, for that matter. We should be talking about establishing a democratic culture that respects all viewpoints, and makes sure that voters have representation that matches their numbers, at all levels of government.

In such systems, the OC would be evenly split among blue and red—and far more people in the county might be happier with their politicians.

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