Social conservatism as a nationwide major political power in America is failing, and fiscal conservatism, such as that practiced in California by Governor Schwarzenegger, is on the decline as well. So is Schwarzenegger's popularity in California thanks to the tremendous budget problems which have wracked the (once) Golden State. Nonetheless there are signs that truly independent-minded California voters will still cross 'party lines' to support socially conservative issues when they have a mind to.
At one point several months before last November's general election, conservative pundits viewed California as "winnable" for the Republicans, and looking at the polling numbers at that time I too thought they might have a chance. McCain's brand of moderate conservatism did indeed give the GOP a shot in California, although that bright spot dimmed as we got closer to the election.
And, true to its "independent" form - as evidenced by the fact that California tends to elect Republican governors - the state's voters passed the Proposition 8 Ban on Gay Marriage (52%-48%) while at the same time the state went strongly for Obama (61%-37%). These seemingly non-congruent results demonstrate the independence of California's electorate remains, despite the migration of many of the state's Independents from the Republican Party rolls.
With their registrations sinking and their political clout withering, California Republicans have come out of the November election in danger of slipping into political irrelevance across much of the state.
"There's been a broad repudiation of traditional conservative Republicans in California," said Tony Quinn, a former GOP analyst and co-editor of the California Target Book, which focuses on political contests in the state. "There are almost no areas in the state that can be considered safely Republican anymore."
Since 2004, Republican registration has dropped by more than 317,000 in the state, while Democrats have picked up 563,000 new voters. Five previously GOP counties, including San Joaquin, Stanislaus and San Bernardino, now have more Democrats than Republicans.
Things aren't any better in the Legislature, where Democrats hold commanding majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate. The Democrats picked up three seats in the Assembly last month, including the last partisan post held by a Republican in the nine-county Bay Area.
But while fewer California voters are aligning themselves with the GOP, social conservatives see some bright spots in the 2008 election results. Interestingly enough, the extent to which Barack Obama's historic presidential effort influenced black voter turnout proved to be a boost to California's social conservatives in regards to the Prop 8 Gay Marriage ban. Exit polls showed that black voters supported the ban by a 70%-30% margin, with white voters predominantly opposed, and the Latino vote was mixed.
The California migration away from the GOP has a negative impact on social conservatism in California in the form of lower donations to the party. The GOP may have difficulty raising funds and mounting effective countermeasures to Democratic efforts in contested seats in the future as a result.
But despite the lower GOP voter registration numbers not a single one of California's Congressional seats changed parties in this past election, indicating that the sweeping change endorsed by California's voters in their support of Obama for President has not changed the electorate's strong independent streak.
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