Orange County Democrats are celebrating a victory that seemed almost impossible 10 years ago. There are officially more registered Democratic voters than Republican in the county. The last time that happened was a brief period in the 1970s just after President Nixon resigned. KCRW talked to Michael Moodian, professor at Chapman University, about the change.
KCRW: Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Orange County in 2016, and all the county's congressional seats turned blue in the 2018 midterms. Is that surprising to see that there are now more Democratic voters?
Moodian: I don't think it's surprising. I think the surprise, though, is the fact that it happened so quickly. If you look at the history of Orange County, Republicans have held a registration advantage almost continuously since the county's inception in the late 1980s. Moderate Republicans had a massive advantage in the early 1990s that started to decrease little by little each year. And I think a big reason there is that Donald Trump is very unpopular in the county, even among county Republicans. That and the changing county demographics really sped up this dramatic shift in registration numbers.
County residents have been voting for Democrats. Why are the registration numbers only just starting to reflect that?
I think a big reason is that the county Republican structure and base has been so strong for so many years. And the Republicans in Orange County historically have done a very good job at getting Republicans elected to school boards and to city councils… ultimately leading to Republican victories in your state legislature in congressional races. And the Democrats still are catching up. Republicans still hold an advantage in most city council races, but a lot of it goes back to the fact that the Republicans always had a very, very strong base.
The Orange County Democratic party says they have seen a big increase in registration in the past few years. What gives?
It's the fact that the county is changing. This change is drawing in large part by a growing Latino electorate, also the growing Asian American population in the county, and also the young. If you look back in the early 2000s, Orange County voters between the ages of 18 and 34 were aligned with Republicans about 42 to 29%. That has flipped, where today those who are younger than 34 hold the registration advantage over Republicans, and the black unpopularity of the incumbent president has kind of put the foot on the pedal to make this change occurred a little bit at a faster rate.
Do you expect the Democrats to have only a brief lead or does this have some legs? Is it possible that Orange County has turned blue for good?
I don't know if Orange County has turned blue for good. There still is a very strong fiscally conservative base that exists in the county. So I would see a very strong Democratic registration base, a strong Republican registration base, but we also have more than a quarter of the county registered as No Party Preference. So at least in the foreseeable future, it's going to be a purple county.
I think Republicans have a hard time, given the lack of popularity of the incumbent president. But depending on what happens to the national landscape in the years to come, that certainly might have an effect on registration trends in Orange County.