Hello everyone! So… I’ve not done one of these in awhile. I remember finishing up my last post on Reddit, the Arkansas analysis, and it just seemed really daunting to take on California. Well, it’s about time I got on with it. In this write-up, I’ll be focusing on Northern California, specifically the areas north of and including the 20th, 21st, and 22nd US congressional districts which are in the center of the state (a full map of all US congressional districts can be found here). As always, I plan on discussing voting and demographic patterns as they pertain to the Libertarian Party’s interests. Demographic analyses will be based on my personal observations as well as whatever census data I can find, and they are not meant to be presented as racist or otherwise offensive in any way. The voting analyses will be based off published results from recent elections. I may also add in personal memories if I deem them relevant. Also a fair warning: this is going to be an extremely long post.
California is a tricky state for the Libertarian Party, and the Top Two primary election system poses a massive hurdle for the party to appear on general election ballots in November. California also has a relatively small state legislature despite its immense population, so even state offices will be extremely hard to come by. However, that’s not to say that winning any sort of election in California is impossible. The state is enormous, and there are some areas where the Libertarian Party could look to make a foothold.
I’m going to further divide the northern half of California into four sections: the relatively rural areas of the far north and Sierra Nevadas (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th districts), Metro Sacramento, the Bay Area, and the upper San Joaquin Valley. Each region has a different culture and different demographics that the Libertarian Party may wish to explore.
The northern areas of the state I admittedly never been to, and I expected them to be largely Republican. Upon starting this post, I’ve quickly seen that this is not quite the case. While the eastern 1st and 4th districts are currently red, the coastal 2nd district is solidly blue, with its representative Jared Huffman winning reelection in 2016 with a stunning 77.1% of the vote. The 2nd district is also notable for the strong presence of the Green Party of California, although they face similar problems as the Libertarian Party due to the Top Two election system.
In 2016, Gary Johnson received 3.4% of the total vote in California. Since the Top Two system doesn’t apply to presidential elections, the 2016 election results are probably the best numbers to be looking at as an indicator of Libertarian strength. Intriguingly, Johnson’s best percentages in California were all in this northern area of the state, particularly in the eastern mountain counties. His best counties in the entire state were El Dorado County and Sierra County; the Libertarian ticket pulled 5.4% in both.
I think the Sierra Nevadas are the region of California where the Libertarian Party has the best chance to make some noise in the near future. The LP of California needs to make a concerted effort to show up at upcoming elections and find candidates to run for US House in the 1st and 4th districts on a consistent basis. Seeing gold on a presidential election map can also be a good way to get people talking about the Libertarian Party, so it would be smart to concentrate resources during presidential election years to win some of these mountain counties. The aforementioned Sierra County north of Lake Tahoe and Alpine County south of the lake are the two least populous counties in California, so these may be good places to start. Rural areas aren’t used to getting any attention during big elections, so any efforts to court their votes will probably be met with relative success.
The other areas in this northern district of the state are less ideal for finding voters. The coastal region is not a good place to contest; the LP runs in 4th place behind the Green Party and a thoroughly dominant Democratic Party. However, the area around Redding seems hopeful, and seeing as how the Democratic Party doesn’t seem to like contesting the region in state elections, the LP needs to keep pushing and continue to run against any uncontested Republicans.
The Bay Area poses more unique problems for the Libertarian Party. As a metro area flanked by Nancy Pelosi on one side and raucous crowds at UC-Berkeley, it doesn’t seem like a great place for the LP to set up shop, either. However, this is where the demographics come in. In contrast to the almost uniformly white northern region, the Bay Area contains a wide diversity of Americans, each group of whom have their own culture and concerns. Like I said in previous analyses, the Libertarian Party’s key demographics going forward need to be Asian Americans (due to higher economic status, past experience with oppressive governments in Asia, and vast religious/cultural diversity) and Hispanic Americans (open to immigration, more relaxed drug laws, better US-Latin American relations). As of the 2010 US Census, the Bay Area is 23.5% Hispanic and 23.3% Asian.
Now I’ll say up front: San Francisco County is probably a lost cause at the moment. Hillary Clinton carried 85.5% of the vote in 2016, and Johnson came in a distant 4th with a low mark of 2.2%. While it is always a good idea to try to gain some votes in every county across the country, it would seem unwise to spend too many resources in San Francisco proper. The city does have a notable Asian population as well as a vibrant LGBT community, but with this being perhaps the most tightly-kept Democratic district in the nation, it is not a cost-effective venture for the Libertarian Party at the moment.
South of the city, San Mateo County offers a similar story. However, I think it has the potential for success due to the high concentration of wealth. The west bay is home to Silicon Valley and numerous tech companies. Johnson gained 3.0% in San Mateo County in 2016 and came in third. He lost to Stein by .2% in San Francisco but beat her by 1.4% here. Silicon Valley doesn’t have a massive libertarian population presence right now, but it seems like a region where people could be converted.
Looking elsewhere around the Bay Area and beyond, it would seem as if the prospects in Oakland and Santa Cruz are much the same story as San Francisco; there’s just not much of a bright spot to look at. San Jose, on the other hand, has some potential. Santa Clara County is 32% Asian and 26.9% Hispanic. The two Asian groups. with the largest presence in the county are Chinese Americans (8.6% of the total population) and Vietnamese Americans (7.1%). Due to their personal knowledge of oppressive government from their own experiences or their elders’ stories, I see these groups as the sorts of Americans who would be very open to the Libertarian Party’s message of small government and cultural tolerance.
Sacramento is a city which seems more receptive to the Libertarian Party. In 2016, Gary Johnson put up a very respectable 4.5% in Sacramento County, by far his best result from any urban county in the state. Hillary Clinton didn’t get a monumental chunk of the vote, either. She received 58.6%, indicating that while still solidly blue, Sacramento is not an impenetrable stronghold for the Democratic Party like other places in California. The county is also 21.6% Hispanic and 14.3% Asian, so it has enough of key demographics to be of interest to the LP; however, it also has a surprising lack of wealth (at least compared to the Bay Area). Sacramento is a proud city. I think the LP could make some gains there in the near-ish future if the party decides to spend resources there, although admittedly there may be easier places to try to gain a foothold in California.
Last but not least for this post is the upper San Joaquin Valley. The valley is most definitely an agricultural center, but it’s also dotted with growing cities like Stockton, Fresno, Modesto, and Visalia that give it a different culture than other agricultural regions across the country. As far as demographics go, all I can say is this: the valley is roughly half white and half Hispanic. I’d imagine that, since West Coast Republicans tend to be fairly moderate anyways, voters in the Valley are beginning to feel disgusted with our country’s current administration.
The 22nd congressional district centered in Tulare County should be of particular interest to the Libertarian Party. It has a Cook PVI (Partisan Voting Index) of +10 to the GOP, but I’d expect that support to be wavering. Moderate Republicans are very vulnerable right now and open to new ideas. Tulare County’s main city is Visalia (a very nice city, might I add–that’s probably the nicest city I’ve personally seen in California), and it saw Trump win 53.4% of the 2016 vote with Clinton receiving 41.3% and Johnson 3.3%. There’s room for improvement, but there’s sure to be a changing of ideals in the 22nd district that the LP should monitor closely.
The last area (just a county, actually) that I want to focus on is Stanislaus County, centered around the city of Modesto. Stanislaus County is, in my opinion, one of the most winnable counties in the entire state. Unlike most places in the state, Stanislaus County has partisan balance (and so does the mostly concurrent 10th congressional district, with a Cook PVI of GOP +1), so the Libertarian Party could win a vote with a relatively low percentage of the vote by spreading a moderate-minded message that could appeal to both parties’ voters.
Conclusion and future campaign recommendations: The Libertarian Party faces an uphill battle in California, but that’s no reason to lay down and do nothing. With a concerted effort, some areas of northern California could become places of success for the libertarian movement. Future presidential tickets should no waste excessive amounts of time or money here, but they should at the very least visit San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento. The state LP and local affiliates should campaign in the few towns that dot the Sierra Nevadas in an effort to get strong results in the counties which the old parties will neglect. Both the national and state Libertarian Parties should attempt to divert some resources (if they can be spared) to make sure every county in the San Joaquin Valley has its own Libertarian Party affiliate to build support around. The valley and Sacramento are where the LP can have the easiest time cultivating success in northern California, not the Bay Area.