Even for voters in ‘predictable’ California, nothing’s guaranteed

As the presidential ballots are counted Tuesday, the state with the greatest bounty of electoral college votes is unlikely to be a stage of high drama.

California gave America three Republican presidents in the 20th century — Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — but its citizens haven’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since they narrowly picked George H.W. Bush in 1988.

This time around, the state’s 55 electoral votes are considered a given in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s tally.

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“In California, even if I don’t vote, it doesn’t matter,” said Dexter Jayawardhana, 70, of Silver Lake, a supporter of Republican nominee Donald Trump. “It’s like throwing your vote into the river.”

Nevertheless, he plans to cast a ballot, as will millions of other Californians. Many are focused on the state, county and local offices that are up for grabs, as well as the fate of 17 statewide ballot measures.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said that the disconnect between the Republican Party and the majority of Californians has been growing for decades. Conservative strongholds persist, including pockets of San Diego and Orange counties.

But as Californians on the whole have drifted leftward on a variety of issues — among them abortion rights, gun control, same-sex marriage and environmental protection — the Republican Party has moved to the right, Schnur said.

“Republicans are still running as if California were culturally, socially and demographically in the 1980s,” Schnur said. “That’s obviously not the case.”

The last time a Republican presidential candidate took California by a strong margin was in 1984, when Ronald Reagan trounced Walter Mondale by about 16 percentage points. In 1988, Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis by about 3 points.

In California, even if I don’t vote, it doesn’t matter. It’s like throwing your vote into the river.

Dexter Jayawardhana, Silver Lake resident


Democrats won the state in the next six contests. Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and speechwriter for Pete Wilson when he was governor in the 1990s, said the state’s loss of aerospace jobs early in that decade, and a booming Latino population, fueled the shift from red to blue.

Presidential elections in California “have become predictable mail-it-in affairs,” Whalen said, adding: “Lack of competition is never a good thing in a democracy.”

President Obama has come to California repeatedly with the goal of raising money, he said, but not to tackle the state’s problems. And the state is left out of the barnstorming treatment candidates lavish on swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“If [California’s] 55 electoral votes were at stake, the next president would spend a lot more time on the ground here solving problems, not collecting checks,” Whalen said.


Joanne Polite, 76, of Silver Lake, is a Clinton supporter and retired school administrator who voted by mail.

She is glad to live in a blue state, she said, but is nervous about the presidential outcome and didn’t want to take any chances.

“Just because it’s a Democratic state, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to vote,” Polite said. “I can’t say Hillary is a shoo-in right now.”

Along with the presidential race, she said she will be closely watching the results of Measure M, a transportation sales tax she supports.


As she walked up a hill on a residential block in Silver Lake, she said the city needs mass transportation akin to New York City’s. “That should’ve started in the ’40s and ’50s,” she said. “Transportation will make a big difference. ...We need it very badly.”

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Times staff writers Nina Agrawal, Makeda Easter and Anh Do contributed to this report.


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