We have all been told that California is a blue state, a Democrat stronghold, and its 55 Electoral College votes will inevitably be awarded to President Barack Obama in 2012. Therefore, the conventional wisdom goes that we, as conservatives, should not bother putting up a fight for it. Yet, there are conservatives who recognize that California has all the pieces of the puzzle to be a great and prosperous state, and that it is time for Californians to not only put California back on the track to prosperity but also America. In March 2011, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a survey that documented that there are cracks in the inevitability of California continuing to support President Obama. This was further supported by PPIC’s July polling of likely voters in California. These cracks create opportunities for conservatives to lay the ground work necessary to make California competitive in the 2012 Presidential Election and, possibly, even to make it red again!
In the March 2011 survey PPIC reported Californians’ opinions of their government. The organization found that 52% of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of the federal government and 55% had an unfavorable opinion of state government. (Note, the state number is lower than what was reported in the fall of 2010.) PPIC also found that while 52% of likely voters in California approved of President Obama’s job performance, 64% felt that President Obama was not doing enough to help create jobs. When PPIC examined all adults, the number increased to 68%. Furthermore, in March 2011, 63% of Californians felt that the federal deficit was a serious problem facing the country. Since the release of this data, President Obama’s job approval has eroded among likely voters in California. PPIC polled likely voters from July 5, 2011 to July 19, 2011 and found that only 48% of likely voters in California approved of President Obama’s job performance.
These outcomes do not appear to be outliers and they seem to be reflective of what is occurring in other blue states and Democrat strongholds, such as New York and New Jersey. On August 16, 2011, the Siena Research Institute reported that only 36% of New Yorkers approved of President Obama’s job performance as president, which was a decrease of 17 points over a three month period. The very next day, Quinnipac reported that 52% of New Jersey voters disapproved of President Obama’s job performance, which was a dramatic change from the 50% job approval he enjoyed just two months earlier.
Several things could explain the drop in approval ratings: the rising and continued high unemployment in the United States; the recent battle in Washington, D.C. over the raising of the nation’s debt ceiling; the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating by S&P; and the rollercoaster sell-offs that have occurred on Wall Street over the summer seeing hardworking Americans again experiencing dramatic losses in their investments and retirement plans. Additionally, millions of Americans continue to every day feel the impact of the economic and fiscal crisis that has gripped the United States since the fall of 2008, and those who were once supportive of President Obama are now beginning to question his leadership on these important issues, particularly whether he is the right person to lead this country. As such, we are now starting to see that President Obama’s support is bleeding in California, similar to that in New Jersey and New York. This is most likely why the Obama administration announced recently that it would release a new jobs plan in September. The Democrats know without “blue states” like New Jersey, New York and California they cannot hold the White House in 2012, and most likely will be facing monumental losses in down ballot Congressional races.
However, if changing opinions of the populous were all it took to win elections in California, then our work would be relatively easier than the hard slog we know it to be. All elections, particularly those in California, are won by the party or candidate who has the best ground game. We know the Democrat Party, the unions, and the community organizing groups for the Democrat Party have a strong machine in place and know what it takes to get the job done. We also know that most political experts believe that the majority of Californians will vote Democrat. Part of this thinking is based upon the fact that in 2008 the Democrat Party had an approximate 2 million voter registration margin over Republicans. The numbers have not changed considerably since that time. Additionally, it is also based upon the unfortunate fact that rather than gaining registered voters, the California Republican Party has been losing registered voters for years; whether by natural attrition (i.e. more Republicans are dying or moving out of state) or by deliberately leaving the Republican Party. The California Secretary of State reported in February 2011 the percentage of registered Republicans decreased from 35.2% to 30.9% over a seven year period. During this same period of time, Independents (i.e. Declined to States) were the fastest growing “political” group in California, increasing by 5 percentage points from 15.3% to 20.4% of registered voters. Democrats marginally lost voters, decreasing from 44.4% to 44%.
While Democrats are the plurality of registered voters in California, conservativism is on the rise. According to a series of PPIC surveys of political party affiliations released in September 2010, 73% of registered Republicans indicated that they are politically conservative, which was up 8 points from 2006. PPIC also found that from 2006 to 2010 while Independent/Declined to State voters tended to lean towards the Democrat Party, this party affiliation was down 4 points, and those who reported that they were liberal declined by 3 points to 29%. The organization found that 31% of Independent/Declined to State voters identified as being politically conservative, up 5 points since 2006. Additionally, within the Democrat Party 18% of voters identified as being politically conservative. When PPIC examined likely voters in California, it found they were more likely to be conservative (40%), as opposed to being liberal (31%) or middle of the road (29%). Even those adults who are eligible to vote but are not registered were more likely to be conservative (36%) compared to being liberal (33%) or middle of the road (31%).
What we learn from looking at these political affiliations and identifications is that there is a large swath of California voters who are receptive to the conservative message because they identify as being politically conservative. Additionally, the numbers reflecting Californians’ opinions of President Obama’s handling of America’s economic issues show that the majority of likely voters in California may be receptive to voting for someone other than President Obama in the 2012 Presidential election, especially if his administration does not reverse course and our nation’s economic outlook does not vastly improve in the next 12 months.
With this in mind, we must remember that 2012 will be a high-turn out election. As such, it will not be enough for conservative activists to only get Republicans to the polls. This is supported by PPIC which concluded that because neither major party has a majority of registered voters Independents hold an important influence over the outcome of an election. In 2006, the Independents broke for Arnold Schwarzenegger; in 2008, the Independents broke for Barack Obama. In order to make California competitive, conservatives must not only target the Republican Party, which is absolutely critical for get-out-the-vote efforts, but they must also target Independents, particularly those who have pulled Republican ballots in the past. It is imperative that conservatives start now laying the ground work for get-out-the-vote efforts for 2012, which means talking to neighbors, friends, and family members; getting connected with local Tea Party and conservative groups; or volunteering to walk precincts or hold neighborhood tea parties in order to connect with people in the community. During all this hard work, we must remember that California is a beautiful state and it is worth the actions we take now to begin righting it. For an over taxed, over regulated state like our once golden California 2012 cannot come soon enough.
Rebecca is the Los Angeles City and County Coordinator of Organize4Palin. She has been doing political analyses for several organizations in the Los Angeles area, including TEAPAC. This article is part of a series of articles she’s writing for TEAPAC.