AMAC Exclusive – by Daniel Roman
On Tuesday, September 14th, the few California voters who had not already cast ballots by mail went in person to the polls to vote on the fate of Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom. The results, with around 85% of the vote counted are 63.4% against the recall and 36.6% in favor.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been quick to try and spin these results. Republicans, especially those linked to the Republican establishment, have argued that because the 36.5% of Californians voted to remove Newsom is greater than the 34.3% of the vote received by Donald Trump in 2020, the result represents a 2% swing toward the GOP. Although less than they would have hoped for given Biden’s travails (the no recall vote will probably end just under Biden’s 63.44% vote share in 2020) it is still “progress.”
Democrats by contrast argue that the results represent a swing in their favor from 2018, when Gavin Newsom was elected by a margin of 61.95% to 38.05%, in what was a Democratic landslide year. In short, Republicans have claimed a better year than 2020, and Democrats a better year than 2018.
But both parties cannot have actually made progress with voters during Newsom’s recall in the zero-sum game of politics, and especially not down ballot in California, where 2018 saw Republicans decimated in Congressional races, losing 7 seats, four of which they regained in 2020. In fact, the narratives of both parties ignore the fact that, with Donald Trump on top of the ticket, Republican candidates had a much better year in 2020, not just in California, but nationwide. But it was particularly a much better year in California, where Donald Trump received the highest number of votes ever cast for a Republican, over 6 million, (around the same number of Californians who voted to keep Gavin Newsom last week), and increased his percentage of the vote by 3 points compared to 2016.
The reality is that while Republican hacks, especially the #NeverTrumpers who are eager to blame Donald J Trump and now Larry Elder for alienating voters, are lying with statistics, the Democrats, while perhaps being more honest with the statistics, are lying about politics. Because what the recall results show is three things: First, the Great Realignment has continued. Second, Trump was an asset to GOP candidates even in blue states. And third, 2022 will likely be a bad year for Democrats where the GOP builds on what worked in 2020.
The Great Realignment Has Continued
I have written an entire series for AMAC Newsline looking at a clear trend across the Western world: as the Left has gone all in on trying to push identity – racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation– as the determining factor in politics, working class voters of all colors and backgrounds are in fact moving in the opposite direction. Education, economic status, and bread and butter issues are cutting across the lines of identity which Critical Race Theory and its derivative ideologies teach us should mean everything. This has meant Hispanic voters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Miami voting for Donald Trump, blue-collar Muslim voters in the U.K. rejecting the Labour party just as their white working class counterparts have been doing, and even hip Gen Z voters in Madrid going for a right-wing politician who promised to keep their bars open.
It has, as Democratic commentators have consoled themselves, led to some swings in the other direction. The Republican Party has struggled in recent years in the Northeast, especially given the repeal of the SALT deduction in 2017. But party alignments are changing.
The results in California were most disappointing to those in both parties who wanted to pretend that American politics in 2021 would revert to that of 2012. Establishment Republicans hoped that upper-income white voters would return to casting their ballots for Republicans who talked a good game on taxes, and otherwise promised to keep everything as it was, except where the elite wanted it to change. Democrats hoped that the swings they saw among working class Latinos were a one-time thing.
Instead, the results in the 2021 California recall showed that the trends from 2020 accelerated. Initial exit polls indicated that Hispanic voters voted almost identically to white voters (all the more impressive for Republicans when one considers the Hispanic electorate is much younger), a split driven by the increasing polarization between voters with a college degree and those without. This is a particularly meaningful divide in California, which is among the most polarized states in the country when it comes to wealth. For those with it, or jobs in the sectors which make the astronomical costs of living affordable, the state is a utopia, with even COVID restrictions able to be avoided with the right connections and wealth.
The problem for Republicans is that the cost of living is no longer an abstract issue. It has driven a transformation of the state. Many of those who cannot afford to live in California have already left. And those who can afford to live there do not necessarily oppose COVID restrictions, high taxes, or other aspects of the liberal agenda.
What is even more interesting is the role education plays among white voters. The gap between non-white voters with a college degree and those without a college degree is a mere 4% points. But among white voters it is 25%. White voters with college degrees vote to the Left not just of non-white voters without a college degree, but even non-white voters with degrees. In fact, even corrected for gender, white men with degrees still voted to the left of non-white voters as a whole.
When the Democrats talk about the “radicalization” of “white America” they are not entirely wrong. But the “radicalization” that has occurred is a radical move to the left among whites with advanced degrees, especially college-educated white women. That in turn, is driving the radicalization of American politics, leading figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to float ideas such as expanding the Supreme Court, and a much more extreme Democratic party on issues like abortion.
Donald Trump Helped in 2020
One of the laziest pieces of analysis is to look at the total numbers and compare them to 2020 to conclude that a) Donald Trump did worse than the recall effort; b) Donald Trump was a drag on Republicans; and c) Donald Trump is somehow at fault for the recall failing.
This analysis works – marginally – if you look only at the statewide totals, but even there the results are misleading. Republican candidates for governor in California have always done about 4-5% better than presidential candidates. In 2010, Meg Whitman won 41%; in 2014 Neal Kashkari 41% again. In 2018, John Cox got 38%. By contrast, the period saw a steady decline in the GOP vote in presidential contests, from 37% for Mitt Romney, to 31% for Donald Trump in 2016, until 2020 when Donald Trump increased his total to 34.3%. That increase was driven by gains among minorities: Central Valley Latinos, but also Asians and African Americans.
In September 2021, the GOP held some of the gains with Latinos, but collapsed with Asians. In rural areas with heavy Latino and rural white populations and low education levels, the recall ran ahead of Donald Trump. But in urban areas, the ones Democrats win by lopsided margins, the recall did much worse. In Orange County, Vietnamese-heavy precincts swung almost 30% from Trump to voting against the recall. Korean-heavy precincts swung 7%.
While some of this shift may be due to Asian American attitudes on COVID restrictions, Donald Trump certainly appears to have had real appeal to traditionally Democratic voters that the Republican recall effort did not. This should be concerning when it comes to three congressional seats in Orange County, two with heavy Vietnamese populations that the GOP recovered in 2020 after losing in 2018.
It is easy to overanalyze the California recall. It mostly tells us about California. But if we look at it not as a Democrat vs. Republican exercise, but instead analyze how different voter groups moved or did not since 2020, we can deduce a few things.
One, voting is increasingly tied to education.
Two, intense partisanship is being driven by the radicalization of college-educated white voters, especially women with advanced degrees, who are more and more progressive in their views.
And three, this trend is producing a vastly more radical Democratic party, which is in turn alienating non-white voters, especially those without college degrees.
Democrats can take solace in the fact that there is little evidence white women with advanced degrees will turn on them, no matter what Gavin Newsom or Joe Biden does wrong. But they should be worried about whether they can win elections outside California with just that group. Because it looks like they are alienating almost everyone else.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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