Orange is the New Blue, Democrats Now Majority Party in Orange County
DCCC Spokesperson Andy Orellana issued the below statement following the announcement that Democrats have surpassed Republican registrants in Orange County.
“Republicans’ ‘Orange Curtain’ is in tatters at the feet of Democrats’ sustained grassroots organizing. After flipping seven seats in California in 2018, the DCCC began this election cycle by hiring and training dozens of experienced field managers to hold Republicans accountable and extend our margins. While Republicans rinse and repeat their failed 2018 strategy, Democrats have been organizing to win from day one and will not stop working until November 2020.”
Read more about how Democrats turned Orange County blue, below or here.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Orange County Turns Blue: Democrats Outnumber GOP In Long-Time Conservative Haven
The place where “the good Republicans go to die” is no longer a hotbed of conservatism. Demographics and Trump get credit for the change.
Brooke Staggs // 08.07.19
Early Wednesday morning, Registrar Neal Kelley reported there are 547,458 Democrats vs. 547,369 Republicans registered to vote in Orange County, making the county blue by 89 voters.
The switch marks the first time Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in the county since a short-lived swap in 1978, following the Watergate scandal. And it’s the latest step in a political and cultural shift that’s been underway for years, with the county becoming more racially, ethnically and economically diverse and the Republican party becoming less popular with non-white, younger voters.
The flip also is a sign that Democrats, not Republicans, are gaining momentum. While the two major parties have slipped or held even statewide in recent years (with the GOP falling to third place, statewide) and No Party Preference has gained ground, that’s not been the case recently in Orange County. Instead, over the past several months, Democrats and Republicans both have gained ground with Democrats gaining, on average, roughly four times as many registered local voters as the GOP.
While the shift has been expected, it happened several years before many observers predicted. And experts on both sides of the political aisle say backlash against President Donald Trump — along with a GOP that’s largely stood behind his rhetoric — is the reason.
Republican leaders say they’re taking the change seriously, though they also are downplaying the significance of the latest data.
“We still believe this is a conservative county,” said Randall Avila, spokesman for the Republican Party of Orange County.
While predicting the “pendulum will swing back” within 10 years, as Democrats move left, Avila added: “We are fully invested and will continue to fight for our county.”
But local Democrats note that demographics increasingly are on their side. Younger voters, Latinos and Asians are growing voting blocs in Orange County, and all three currently favor Democrats over Republicans.
Those trends boost the odds that the county’s congressional delegation, which flipped from majority red to all blue in November, will stay in Democratic hands. And if they hold, those trends also might make local offices typically dominated by the GOP – for county supervisors, city councils and school districts – ripe for Democratic gains.
New voters lead change
Unlike neighboring San Diego County, where the registration edge flipped from blue to red and back to blue again 11 years ago, Orange County was a Republican stronghold almost continuously since its inception.
The GOP’s all-time peak in the county came in 1928, when 73% of registered voters were Republicans. The modern-era high came in 1990, when 56% of the local electorate was Republican, giving the GOP a 22-point advantage over Democrats. Since then, that edge narrowed, dropping to 17 percentage points in 2000 and 11 points in 2010.
One factor driving the shift has been the rise of non-white voters, particularly in inland Orange County cities.
In just the past three years the number of Latinos registered to vote in Orange County has jumped 34%, as more people have become citizens and those born in this country have grown old enough to vote. Overall, Latinos now account for 21% of the county’s electorate.
A similar, if less dramatic shift is taking place among Asian American voters. Asian Americans now account for 16% of all registered voters in Orange County and, as a bloc, 30% are registered as Democrats, 29% as Republicans and 41% are No Party Preference or with smaller parties.
But the biggest switch of all is happening among young voters.
In 2002, Orange County voters ages 18 to 34, regardless of race, were aligned with the GOP, with Republicans holding a 42% to 29% registration advantage over Democrats. Today, that’s virtually flipped, with under-34 Democrats holding a 38% to 20% advantage over Republicans. Overall, younger voters in Orange County account for 31% of all registrations.
But Democrat Jacobson argues the surge for his party, locally, runs beyond shifting demographics. For at least a decade, he said, national GOP leaders have talked less about fiscal conservatism, the GOP’s traditional brand, in favor of racially tinged arguments about immigration and so-called culture issues.
“It was a wave, and there’s no nice way of saying this… of national Republican leaders saying stupid things.”
Jacobson pointed to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Tea Party movement and the GOP’s long-running talking point, led by Trump, that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
“I thought that was not going to be acceptable to the majority of Orange County Republicans,” Jacobson said. “They didn’t leave the Republican party, the Republican party left them.”
Then came Donald Trump.
The Trump factor
By 2016, local Democrats were positioned for some gains. And the ’16 presidential election was the first in 48 years in which more Orange County ballots were cast for a Democratic (Hillary Clinton) than a Republican.
After Trump won the Electoral College, despite losing the national popular vote by nearly 3 million, local Democrats were part of the national surge in protests against the Trump presidency and in favor of women’s rights, humane treatment of immigrants and other causes championed by Democrats.
By last year’s mid-term election, Orange County’s GOP congressional delegation – already a conservative island in solidly left California – was facing headwinds. National GOP groups focused their political efforts outside of California, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) worked with other groups to register Democrats in Orange County. The congressional flip that followed – in which four GOP house members or GOP contenders lost to first-time Democratic challengers – was predictable based on on-the-ground trends.
Still, some experts predicted the surge would slow after 2018. Instead, the blue surge has only accelerated heading into the 2020 election cycle.
What this means for OC and beyond
Local GOP leaders say registration isn’t as important as voter turnout. And Avila said his party did a better job at getting Republicans to cast ballots in 2018, even if some ended up voting against GOP candidates.
But Andy Orellana, spokesman for the DCCC, said his party has brought field managers to Orange County “who are trained to execute a modern campaign strategy and harness the growing enthusiasm.”
Meanwhile, other former Republican strongholds also are seeing Democrats make inroads. Tarrant County in Texas and San Luis Obispo County both recently flipped.
“As Orange County goes, so goes the nation,” said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University.
For the time being, however, Democrat Briceño said one thing has become clear: Orange County is no longer the place where Reagan once said “good Republicans go to die.”