For decades, Orange County was a reliable incubator of conservative politics, and, in the era of Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan, a fairly powerful force in the state and on the national level. More recently, the area has been widely seen as tilting blue, particularly during the Trump era, with the media celebrating the end of “the Orange Curtain” in the 2018 midterm elections and its metamorphosis into another addition to our state’s progressive political culture.
Yet this November’s election results tell us something more nuanced. Instead of following the flow of the state’s urban centers, Orange County turned a deep purple and, in the process, reinforced its relevance to the state’s political future.
The county defied the politics of polarization, voting for Biden against Trump, but also electing two new Republicans to Congress, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both Korean Americans. House seats in the county are now split with five Democrats and two Republicans. And its voters supported generally conservative positions on a host of state ballot issues.
This shift is not merely an expression of pent-up white resentment. Orange County is no longer just a white enclave by the beach. It is more than half Latino and Asian, with a level of education that is considerably higher than Los Angeles’ and the state‘s. Yet despite being educated and diverse, Orange County moved back toward the center-right in this year’s elections, perhaps a harbinger of changes in other parts of California as well.
Orange County’s electorate is clearly no longer right-wing conservative, but is quite heterogeneous compared with the state’s solidly left-leaning urbanized areas. It voted for Biden by a decisive margin, 53% to 44%, strongly rejecting Trump’s awful nativism. At the same time, it showed little interest in embracing progressive agendas on economic regulation, taxation and affirmative action.
This was most evident in the ballot propositions. Orange County voters rejected by roughly 20 percentage points Proposition 15, which would have raised taxes on commercial properties and drew fears of increased costs to already beleaguered medium-sized and small businesses. County voters approved by even larger margins Proposition 22, which exempted app-based drivers from state employee laws. That measure lost only in the Bay Area and in a few rural counties. An attempt to expand rent control failed miserably statewide, and by nearly 2 to 1 in Orange County, winning only narrowly even in the blue bastion of San Francisco.
One factor behind these politically mixed and moderate results may be the relatively high percentage of homeowners, many of whom oppose higher taxes and greater regulation. Roughly 57% of Orange County residents own their own home, compared with 45% in Los Angeles County and barely 37% in San Francisco. Homeownership rates are also much higher in the Inland Empire, the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, the North Coast and most Central Valley areas.
These are places where California’s middle class can afford homes, or have the chance to start a business, regardless of whether the state’s planning priorities pushes development into ever denser communities in coastal areas.
Read the rest of this piece at Los Angeles Times.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.