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California in the New Millennium The Changing Social and Political Landscape

  • by Mark Baldassare (Author)
  • May 2002
  • First Edition
  • Paperback
    $34.95,  £27.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 283
    ISBN: 9780520234215
    Trim Size: 6 x 9
    Illustrations: 5 maps, 57 tables

Read Chapter 1


The Changing Social
and Political Landscape

California is a work in progress. The state has experienced many periods of rapid growth and change over the past 150 years. There will be no pause for reflection at the millennium. Forces and trends are converging that will, by the middle of the twenty-first century, transform California into a very different state from the one we know today. How California will cope with the challenges it faces is far from clear. The purpose of this book is to explore this question in light of three major phenomena: Californians' strong and increasing political distrust, radical change in the racial and ethnic mix of the state's population, and the growing diversity of its regions.


Many troubling questions arose about the state's future in the 1990s. The Los Angeles riots shook the foundations of racial harmony in this multicultural state. Asians, blacks, Latinos, and whites were drawn into a bloody conflict.1 Voter approval of initiatives aimed at immigrants and racial groups raised questions about how whites would react to living in a state where they were no longer the majority. State and local governments had to react to a series of natural disasters, including fires, droughts, floods, and earthquakes. A severe recession brought about huge state budget deficits, resulting in local government fiscal crises such as the Orange County bankruptcy. These difficulties have taken a toll on the collective mood. Today, many believe that the government is no longer capable of dealing with the size and complexity of the state's population and problems.

The events of the recent past raise fundamental questions about the future. Will California be a highly populated state where people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds can find happiness, decent jobs, and housing, and can live together in peace? Or will California take on the nightmarish qualities of the movie Bladerunner, evolving into a state plagued by racial and ethnic conflict, poverty, lawlessness, congestion and overcrowding, and environmental pollution? Will growing income inequality create a state in which the highly affluent lead comfortable and healthy lives while most of the populace struggles with poverty and debased community conditions?

The major constant in all of the talk about California's future is rapid population growth, much of it the result of a phenomenal surge in immigration. If the state's past population trends, shown in Table 1-1, are any indication of future trends, the predictions of massive growth will be realized. Much of the state's previous population growth was fueled by a combination of migration from within the United States and the heightened fertility rates of the Baby Boom era. The demographic equation changed sharply in the 1980s, as immigration from abroad and the high birth rates of the newcomers led to another surge in growth, resulting in a total population of nearly 30 million people.

All of the pre-2000 census counts and estimates indicate that growth has continued at a fast pace in California, except for a brief period during the recession of the early 1990s. The state's population was about 33.5 million at the time of the 1998 elections and is estimated to reach nearly 35 million by 2000. This means that the state's population will have more than tripled in 50 years, and this rapid growth is expected to continue through the beginning of the new millennium. The population is expected to reach 40 million by 2010 and 50 million by 2028 (California Department of Finance, 1998a). It should be noted that these are modest predictions compared with some others (Bouvier, 1991; Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, 1999).

This growth will significantly change the demographic diversity of the state. The white population will grow from 17.4 million in 2000 to 18 million in 2040, and the black population will grow from 2.4 million to 3.2 million over this period. These are modest gains compared with the growth of the Asian population, from 4 million to 9.1 million, and the Latino population, from 10.7 million to 28.1 million. The growth in the Latino and Asian populations reflects a rate of immigration to California since 1980 that has been nothing short of phenomenal. Immigration and births to immigrant women account for most of the population increase. The state gained about 2.8 million residents through immigration between 1980 and 1994. Moreover, this figure does not include illegal immigrants during this period, estimated to be between 1.4 million and 2 million people (Johnson, 1996). Most of the legal and illegal immigrants arrived from Mexico and Asian countries. By 1994, nearly 24 percent of Californians were foreign born (California Department of Finance, 1997), and about 42 percent of the school-age population of California consisted of immigrants or the children of immigrants (McConnell, 1999).

The effects of immigration will be felt for several decades through uneven fertility rates.2 In 1980, more than two-thirds of the state's population was white, 19 percent was Latino, 7 percent black, and 7 percent Asian. By 1990, the white population had fallen to 57 percent of the total population while the Latino population had grown to 26 percent and the Asian population to 10 percent (see Table 1-2). State demographers now estimate that sometime in the year 2000 whites will no longer be the majority population in the state, as Latinos increase to 31 percent and Asians to 12 percent. Latinos will outnumber whites sometime in the early 2020s and could well become the outright majority in the 2040s (California Department of Finance, 1998a).

The population growth in the twenty-first century will also significantly change the regional balance in the state. Today's population is not evenly distributed across geographic regions. Most residents live in a handful of southern counties, and nearly three in ten residents live in Los Angeles County alone. As shown in Table 1-3, almost half of state residents live in Los Angeles County, Orange County, and the Inland Empire (i.e., Riverside and San Bernardino Counties). In all, six in ten residents live in the greater Southern California area, including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial, San Diego, and Ventura Counties, which can be seen in Map 1-1. The next most populous region in the state is the San Francisco Bay area, home to 20 percent of the state's population. This includes the nine counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. One in six residents lives in the Central Valley region, which consists of eighteen inland counties stretching from the cities of Bakersfield to Redding, including Butte, Colusa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Yolo, and Yuba. Less than 10 percent of the population lives in the rest of the state, including the central coast and Northern California. It is important to note that the four major regions of the state-Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, Orange County and the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley-are having their own unique experiences with growth and change.

All of the major regions will experience growth, but today's dominant coastal regions of Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay area will lag behind the Central Valley, and the Inland Empire and Orange County in overall population gains. In a few decades, the population of the latter will be greater than the population of the former.

The age structure of the state's population will also change. The number of older Californians will increase dramatically as the Baby Boom generation ages (see Adams, 1992). At the same time, a large number of children will be born to the immigrant population. Although children in the state will outnumber people 60 and over, the older population will grow at a faster pace, as shown in Table 1-4. Between 2000 and 2040, the number of children under 15 will increase by 68 percent and the number of people 60 and over will increase by 154 percent. Thus, there will be a growing proportion of "dependent" residents and a shrinking percentage of working-age Californians.


The changes in store for California are truly phenomenal. Adding 24 million people to even a large state in a 40-year period is problematic. As if the growth were not enough, there are the complexities of the changing ethnic and racial mix, huge development in the Central Valley and the suburban regions of Los Angeles, and large numbers of young and old Californians. What is the likelihood of the state successfully coping with all of this growth and change? To answer this question, we look to the evidence on jobs, housing, infrastructure, and government.

One of the most important considerations is whether or not the economy will grow as the population does. If the economy shrinks or becomes stagnant, there will be high unemployment, increasing the cost of government services at a time when the state government's revenues will be shrinking. If the economy grows apace with the working-age population, there is a greater possibility that the state can cope with the population growth. The predictions for the next few decades are fairly bullish, yet there are concerns associated with even the rosiest predictions. Job growth is expected to fall short of population growth (Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, 1999). Manufacturing jobs are expected to become more scarce, and increasing numbers of people are expected to engage in service work (Kimball and Richardson, 1997). These job trends may result in a better standard of living for average residents, but growing income inequality between the rich and the poor is a troublesome possibility (see Clark, 1998; Reed, 1999). There are plenty of signs of upward and downward pressure on job expansion, and, as always, the state's economic fortunes are hostage to global events and business cycles.

California has had its share of ups and downs. In the past two decades, the California economy has been on a roller coaster ride of very good times, followed by very bad times, and then very good times again. The 1980s California employment numbers were stellar. Between 1983 and 1990, 3 million jobs were created at a growth rate of 29 percent. The state's economy then went into a tailspin: more than 400,000 jobs were lost between 1990 and 1993, and the unemployment rate jumped from 5.8 percent to 9.4 percent (Employment Development Department, 1996). In the mid-1990s, the median household income was falling at a sharper rate in California than in the nation, and there were troubling signs of a widening income gap between the wealthy and the poor (Reed, Haber, and Mameesh, 1996).3

When California voters went to the polls in 1994, it was one of the darkest of economic times in the state's history. The end of the Cold War had left a hole in the job base of the defense industry that other industries seemed unable to fill. The savings and loan crisis had resulted in a loss of jobs in the critical real estate and construction industries. Home prices had fallen dramatically from their lofty levels, and consumer confidence was low. But the economy had turned around by the time of the 1998 election, and bullish opinions about the state and its economy had returned. Civilian employment grew from 14,175,200 in October 1994 to 15,341,600 in October 1998, and unemployment declined from 8.1 percent to 5.9 percent (Employment Development Department, 1998).

Yet the state's overall numbers hide significant variations among the major regions of the state in both good times and bad. Los Angeles County was much harder hit than the rest of the state in the last recession and has taken much longer to recover the jobs that were lost. Orange County and the San Francisco Bay area had a softer landing, and each has had robust job growth for most of the 1990s. The Inland Empire never really experienced much of an economic recession and has had solid job growth since the middle of the 1990s. The Central Valley, with its reliance on agriculture, is in its own orbit when it comes to boom and bust cycles. In sum, this regional variation warns us to be cautious about reading too much into statewide economic statistics, because economic conditions in one part of the state may differ from those in other parts of the state (Dardia and Luk, 1999).

The housing stock will also be strained as a result of the expected population growth. To date, there is no plan in place to address this issue. Housing supply and cost are already placing serious constraints on homeowners and renters in many areas of the state. The current predictions suggest that it will become much worse. During some of the peak years of California growth, about 200,000 private residential building permits were issued each year. Some experts estimate that California will need to produce about 500,000 new homes per year, even taking into account the larger household size and slower rate of household formation that are common in immigrant populations. Housing may never grow at that rate in California, especially given the added legal, community, and financial complexities of residential building in the state today. Moreover, there are serious doubts that housing can be offered to the growing population at a price that will be affordable for most residents (see Lieser, 1999).

Infrastructure is another problem. There is nearly uniform agreement that California does not have the public infrastructure in place to accommodate the growth projected for the state. This includes roads, schools, sewers, water, bridges, and government buildings. Nor is the state government investing the funds necessary to meet future growth. As shown in Table 1-5, California ranks near the bottom among the fifty states in per-capita spending for highways, and it spends less on a per-capita basis than most other states on public schools and public colleges and universities (Bowman et al., 1994; California Business Roundtable, 1998; Ellwood, 1994a, 1994b). It is also possible that the lack of state involvement in regional planning may foster suburban sprawl and inefficient land uses that will further increase the costs of providing infrastructure for the state's growing population (American Farmland Trust, 1995; California State Treasurer, 1999; Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, 1998). Moreover, as the state grows, the need for infrastructure funding is far outstripping the revenues available in state coffers.

One final consideration in gauging how well California will do in meeting the future is the government itself. To begin with, the state's budget process poses some major difficulties. Many experts who follow state and local government finance in California worry that there is insufficient flexibility on either the revenue-raising or the spending side to cope with growth and change. Much of local government spending today is required by state and federal mandates to go toward specified services and programs, and the voters have passed initiatives that place real constraints on the abilities of state and local elected leaders to raise taxes for new programs and future-oriented projects.

There are also many reasons to be concerned about how the state's elected officials will handle the pressures of population growth and its concomitant problems. The governor and the state legislature do not have a recent history of working together to solve problems. Even if the executive and legislative branches can get beyond partisan bickering, the legislature itself is deeply split along north/south regional lines-even within the same party. The kind of long-range planning needed to cope with population growth and change is difficult to achieve in any legislative environment in which politicians are geared toward making popular decisions that they hope will get them reelected in a 2-to-4-year time frame. Term limits, of course, in California provide additional incentives for short-term thinking.

Other worrisome elements in the political equation are general political disengagement and the mismatch between the demographics of the voting population and the demographics of the state's population. In California, seven in ten eligible adults are registered to vote.4 Table 1-6 shows that about 6 million residents who could participate in elections are not registered to vote. Further, despite the state's rapid growth since 1980, the voting population has increased little, if at all. For example, nearly 5 million more adults were eligible to vote in the 1998 gubernatorial election than in the 1982 gubernatorial election. Yet participation in the November gubernatorial election grew only from 8.1 to 8.6 million (California Secretary of State, 1998b). Moreover, those who do vote are not representative of the state's population as a whole. In the 1998 California elections, about 75 percent of the voters were white (Voter News Service, 1998), but whites accounted for only 52 percent of the population. Voting statistics thus lag reality, reflecting an ethnic and racial profile reminiscent of California in the 1970s.

It also bodes ill for California's ability to cope with growth and change that in grading all of the states on government performance, Governing magazine gave California one of the lower scores, a C-. Table 1-7 illustrates the problem in the relative ranking of California and the other major states. Among the stinging criticisms are that "California doesn't have a strategic plan and there are no plans for one. . . . The use of performance measurement is minimal. . . . The budget process itself is protracted, contentious and cumbersome, complicating the lives of many state government managers" (Governing, 1999, p. 33).


The grade and the prognosis just noted might have been even worse if the staff at Governing had considered the three issues addressed in this book: Californians' pervasive political disengagement and distrust of government, the changing ethnic and racial mix of the state's population, and the state's regional diversity. Californians desperately need to build a consensus about meeting these challenges, to engage in the political processes required to make their solutions realities, and to empower their political institutions and government representatives to respond. The breadth and depth of these problems will make it much more difficult for California to find the will or the way to meet its millennial challenges.

Other major social and economic trends undoubtedly will complicate the response. The aging of the large Baby Boom generation, combined with the surge in school-age youth born to recent immigrants, is surely important. State politics is affected by a "gender gap" involving differences in policy and candidate preferences between men and women (Jeffe, 1998a). Increasing economic inequality between the rich and poor in the state could create a society divided between the haves and have-nots. As the state shifts out of federal defense contracts and into an information-age job market, structural changes in the economy are creating new positions for college-educated residents and offering dwindling opportunities for blue-collar work. These and other social, political, and economic crosscurrents increase the difficulty of addressing the issues today that will shape the future of the state. However, the analysis in this book focuses primarily on political distrust, ethnic and racial change, and regional diversity because they have had, to date, the most profound effects on the changing political and social landscape of California. Exactly what characterizes these three phenomena?


The most pervasive and important statewide trend examined in this book is political distrust: the public's expressed low confidence in government and elected officials. The lack of political trust is generally related to the perception that the government is unable to solve problems, to spend money in an effective and efficient manner, or to represent the interests and policy preferences of average voters. Californians are quick to blame the government bureaucracy and elected officials for doing a poor job of handling key public issues, wasting the taxpayers' money, and ignoring their needs in favor of special interest groups.

The roots of political distrust-if we look at the public opinion surveys for evidence of its origin-can be traced to the Vietnam War controversy, the Watergate presidential scandal, and the citizens' revolt against higher taxes in many states. Most would probably agree that the era of political distrust in California was decisively underscored when Howard Jarvis placed Proposition 13 on the state ballot in June 1978, and when voters passed it by a wide margin despite the dire warnings of their state and local elected officials. Most observers would also agree that Proposition 13 remains a powerful and unpredictable force in California politics to this day.

What are the implications of political distrust for elections and public policy in California? This distrust has been strongly expressed in citizens' initiatives that have fundamentally shifted the way the state conducts its elections and develops its public policies. So deep are the feelings of political distrust that voters have made it extremely difficult for local governments to increase existing taxes or initiate new ones. Voters have also required the state's elected officials to spend a certain amount on education each year-just in case these officials might not pay attention to the budget items that matter most to the public. The voters have so little respect for how their governor, state legislators, and other major elected state officials have governed California that they have punished them by restricting the number of terms they can serve in office. Voters have tired of political parties exerting too much control in the selection of candidates for statewide offices, so they have created an open-primary process allowing them to vote for any candidate they choose for each office, regardless of the candidate's party. The effects of political distrust are so far-reaching and have been evident over such a long period of time that they can only lead us to ask one question: What will the voters do next?


California has always had racial and ethnic diversity, but the balance of that diversity is changing radically. The state has experienced record levels of immigration from other countries for more than two decades. When immigrants moved to the eastern United States a century ago, they were mostly whites from Europe. Today's immigrants to California are largely from Asian countries, such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, Central and South American nations, and especially Mexico. This immigration has transformed California from a state where the vast majority were white to a multiracial society consisting of sizable proportions of whites, blacks, Asians, and Latinos. No other state in the nation has the level of demographic diversity seen in California today. This is all the more dramatic given that California is by far the most populous state in the nation. Also remarkable is the fact that this social change has occurred rapidly, most of it within a 20-year period. This demographic diversity is particularly significant because the trends we see today are widely expected to continue throughout the early decades of the twenty-first century.

Demographic diversity has been and will continue to be an influential element in California elections and public policy in two principal ways. First, white voters have held ambivalent and at times negative attitudes toward immigration and racial and ethnic change. This has led to the surfacing of "wedge issues" in state politics and to the passage of citizens' initiatives intended to address the concerns of white voters-for example, Proposition 187, restricting public services to illegal immigrants; Proposition 209, ending affirmative action in state and local government; and Proposition 227, limiting bilingual education programs in public schools. The second factor is the growing size of the Asian and, especially, the Latino vote. As the new California immigrants have become citizens, they have emerged as the fastest-growing groups of new voters. It is likely that their participation in elections has been hastened because they have felt threatened by political reaction to their growing presence, as demonstrated in the propositions just noted. Since the 1998 California elections, it has become increasingly clear that Republicans, Democrats, and initiative proponents are reaching out to the Latino and Asian voters because of their increasing political clout. Thus, demographic diversity is changing elections and policy discussions, as California faces the sometimes conflicting demands of white voters and Latino and Asian newcomers to the political process.


Regional diversity is characterized by the distinctiveness and separateness of the major population centers in the state. California is so large in geography and population that it should be considered a collection of unconnected metropolitan regions. Historically, there has been a sharp political division between Northern California and Southern California, most notably in terms of the age-old conflict over who can lay claim to the water supply. Northern California was the dominant influence in the state during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. Southern California became the center of attention with the discovery of oil and the establishment of the motion picture industry in the early 1900s. Today, about 30 percent of the state's residents live in Los Angeles County, making it by far the most heavily populated county in the state and nation. Twenty percent live in the San Francisco Bay area, which includes the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose and nearly 100 suburban locales in the nine-county area. These two regions are the traditional political and economic powerhouses of the state, and they are destined to continue to grow and change well into the future.

Meanwhile, there are two up-and-coming regions whose growing populations are adding diversity to the state's political and social landscape. The Central Valley is home to about 16 percent of Californians and is the fastest-growing region in the state. This vast area includes the state capital of Sacramento, with the cities of Fresno, Merced, Modesto, and Bakersfield to the south and the cities of Red Bluff and Redding to the north. The other rapidly growing and changing region consists of the "mega-suburbs" of Orange County and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, which lie to the south and east of Los Angeles. This region accounts for another 16 percent of the state's residents.

The four major regions of California that we focus on in this book-Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, the Central Valley, and Orange County and the Inland Empire-contain most of the state's population, economic base, and voters. The only other major population center of the state is San Diego County. Although it is approaching 3 million residents, it is not considered in this book because it is not as populous as the other four regions. Therefore, it did not offer the sample sizes needed for analysis of the survey data. And although this metropolitan area lies adjacent to Orange County and the Inland Empire region, it could not be combined with that region because it is spatially distinct and organized differently in political terms from a mega-suburb.

There are major implications of regional diversity for elections and public policy in California. It is more difficult for the state to reach consensus on policy directions, and sharp divisions are evident in election choices. Growth has made regional diversity even more salient; each of the major regions has grown so much in recent decades that it has become large enough to be its own state.

The barriers posed by regional diversity are difficult to overcome. Each of the major regions has its own television stations, radio stations, newspapers, colleges and universities, sports teams, and city centers. Each has a rather distinctive and independent economy. Whereas one region may focus more on making computers, another may be more interested in growing fruits and vegetables, another in manufacturing clothing, and yet another in foreign trade and tourism. The regions have unique patterns of growth and change. Although immigration has affected the entire state, the Los Angeles region has been more profoundly affected than any other region. The regions are also separate political worlds. The San Francisco Bay area is overwhelmingly Democratic and tends to vote for more liberal causes compared with the more politically diverse Los Angeles region. The Central Valley and Orange County and the Inland Empire have more Republican leanings and have been friendlier to conservative causes that have been presented in initiatives.

Most important, the policy challenges facing the respective regions often have little in common. Thus, the state lacks a common vision of its problems and goals. The Central Valley worries about vanishing farmlands and the sudden emergence of ethnic gangs. Orange County and the Inland Empire have concerns about violent crime and racial and ethnic change. The San Francisco Bay area struggles with traffic gridlock and sky-high housing costs. The Los Angeles region faces enormous public health care costs for its large and poor immigrant population. Regional diversity has created a myopia: public policy issues facing the entire state, such as the water supply and aging infrastructure, are often invisible to voters. The lack of political consensus by elected officials representing the major regions also impedes the debate about how the state should plan for the rapid growth it is likely to experience in the future.


Why should people in the rest of the nation care about political distrust, demographic change, and regional diversity in California? Some may argue that what happens in California has little to do with Main Street America. The state is perceived by many to be a home of quirky political movements and unconventional social trends. It is a state that has experienced massive waves of immigration from Asia and Mexico. No other region of the country has experienced the demographic change that California has in the past two decades. California has not one but many diverse and heavily populated regions. Only a handful of states have witnessed so much growth and change in so many regions. Since the late 1970s, California voters have severely limited the taxing abilities of their local governments, established term limits for elected officials at the state level, and given voters the option of crossing party lines in state and presidential primaries. California has experimented with state and local governance and elections to an extent not found anywhere else. Finally, California politics are deeply influenced by citizens' initiatives. Such tools of governance are not found in every state and rarely have had the profound policy consequences that they have had in California. And yet, in spite of all of this, there are many compelling reasons for those in other states to closely watch California.

One reason to pay special attention to social and political trends in California is its colossal size. The Golden State's population recently reached 33.5 million. All of the current demographic projections suggest that it is headed toward 50 million within a few decades. It is by far the largest state in the nation, and with rapid growth ahead it will remain so for the foreseeable future. This means that major events in California are felt throughout the nation. For instance, when the California economy fell into a deep recession in the early 1990s, the rest of the nation felt the slowdown in consumer spending. The nation as a whole did not arrive at full recovery until California emerged from its recession. State trends also affect national politics and public policy. California's fifty-two-person delegation to the U.S. Congress dwarfs those of all other states. The redrawing of congressional boundaries by state officials could shift the balance of power in Washington. California's fifty-four electoral college votes make the state a central player in determining the outcome of presidential elections. The state's voters have been credited with Ronald Reagan's and Bill Clinton's successes and have played a decisive role in the failure of the presidential bids of George Bush and Bob Dole. Fully aware of this, the presidential candidates in the 2000 election have courted the state's voters. Both the Republicans and Democrats are hard-pressed to find a strategy for winning a national election without carrying the Golden State.

Another reason for following the latest trends in California is that this state has become a political microcosm for the nation. California voters are overwhelmingly middle-class residents of fairly modest means. Although they may have higher-than-average incomes, much of this extra income is consumed by higher housing costs. Many voters live in the suburbs, own their homes, and drive their cars to work. They worry about paying the bills and making ends meet each month and about which politicians they can trust with the critical task of making the good economic times last. They are concerned about their quality of life, public schools, and the crimes they see on television. Californians are mainstream Americans. This explains why winning the national election for president has become so highly correlated with winning in California. The nation and the state have voters with similar political interests and demographic profiles.

We also have to consider California the social trendsetter for the nation, even though the vast majority of its residents are in the middle class. The size and diversity of California provides the "critical mass" of people for starting many new social movements in areas such as the arts, fashion, music, automobiles, food, health, psychotherapy, outdoor recreation, and politics. In addition, the powerful television and movie images of California reach into every household and have provided a measuring stick for American consumers to evaluate their success. Today, add to the media images the increasing influence of computers and Internet use that originated in California's Silicon Valley and have swept across America. For these reasons, social trends that are born in California are likely to influence how Americans living elsewhere will think about their own lives.

We see in the three themes addressed in this book a mirror image between the state and the nation. Much of the political malaise evident in California today is no different from that which is experienced in the rest of the nation. In both the state and the national realm, many have checked out of the voting process and many of those who are voting feel deeply distrustful of politics. People throughout the nation are disgusted with how many candidates conduct their campaigns and, specifically, all of the money spent on television commercials. Many Americans think that politicians listen to powerful special interests, rather than to average citizens, once they are elected. The public does not have a lot of confidence in how government leaders go about trying to solve the problems that are of most concern to them. Voters in California and elsewhere in America have lost faith in the abilities of their state and national officeholders to spend the taxpayers' money in an effective and efficient manner. A large number assume that their politicians are dishonest. They have become so jaded that presidential scandals about sex, lies, and perjury don't even faze them. The close similarities between California and the nation in terms of political apathy and distrust-clearly evident in the public opinion surveys discussed in Chapter 2-offer another compelling reason to study California in some depth for the clues it may offer to ongoing national trends.

A look at the regional and demographic diversity in California today provides a glimpse at things to come for the rest of the nation. For instance, there is a preponderance of very large and growing suburban regions not only outside of cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco but also in many of the U.S. metropolitan regions in the East, South, Midwest, and West (Garreau, 1991). Also, the transformation from agriculture and farmland regions to sprawling urban areas not only is occurring in the Central Valley and Inland Empire of California but also is in full swing in the previously underpopulated states in the mountain region, such as Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Other states, and indeed the nation as a whole, struggle with policy disagreements emerging from regional diversity.

Also, California is not the only state where the Latino and Asian populations have grown rapidly. Many places in the nation have been struggling with racial and ethnic change and tolerance for diversity. Projections call for the nation to become a much more multiethnic society by the middle of the next century.

California is the place the nation can look to for signs of how political distrust, regional diversity, and demographic change are likely to affect the country's social fabric. These social and political trends are magnified in California, having started sooner and had more impact to date, and they are likely to continue in a dramatic fashion. California is also large and powerful enough as a trendsetter in its own right to affect the whole nation. For many reasons, then, the rest of the nation would be well served to study how California is coping with these issues.


One way to understand how the ongoing political and social changes in California today are affecting elections and public policy-and the approach taken in the study that produced this book-is to follow closely an actual statewide election. In a nonelection year, asking people how they feel about politics and government can seem rather abstract and esoteric. In contrast, when there is a statewide election, people have to make real choices. My approach was to develop an in-depth profile of the social and political forces at work during the 1998 California elections.

The 1998 elections offered an excellent opportunity to study California politics. This was an "off-year" statewide election, which meant that there would be none of the distractions of a national presidential election. There was a competitive governor's race at the top of the ticket. With the current governor, Pete Wilson, out of the running because of term limits, this was sure to be a hotly contested race. There was also a U.S. Senate race. The current officeholder, Democrat Barbara Boxer, was projected to have a tough reelection bid because of her liberal voting record. Many of the constitutional offices of the state, such as lieutenant governor, treasurer, and attorney general, would be vacated because the officeholders were "termed out" or seeking higher office.

The June primary also held the intriguing promise of being the first ever "blanket," or open, primary. Ushered in by the voter initiative that passed in 1996, an open primary would allow all voters to choose from a slate of candidates from all parties: Democrats, Republicans, other-party members, and independents could vote for either Republican or Democratic candidates for each office. No one knew how the open primary would work out, and the major parties worried about everything from "sabotage" to enormous expenditures in trying to reach all voters in the primary.

There were also a host of controversial citizens' initiatives headed for the June primary ballot and the November general election. One sought to limit the time non-English-speaking students could spend in bilingual education programs in the public schools. Another attempted to restrict the way that union dues can be used to contribute to political contributions. Another aimed at undoing the state legislature's laws on electric deregulation. Another sought to extend gambling on Indian reservations. Another sought to impose a hefty tax on cigarettes. And several were geared toward improving the state's troubled school system.

Altogether, the state ballot included eight state constitutional offices, a U.S. Senate seat, and a total of twenty-one state propositions in June and November. To include questions on all of these would have swamped the surveys. Instead, we focused intensively on two statewide races, two initiatives on the June ballot, and two initiatives on the November ballot. We wanted to select the state races that were likely to attract the most public attention and the state propositions that reflected some of the different kinds of public policy choices that people are asked to make at the ballot box. As a result, the surveys included the top-of-the-ticket governor's race and the U.S. Senate race to watch in the June primary and again in the November election; Proposition 226 on union contributions and Proposition 227 on bilingual education in the June primary; and Proposition 1a for the $9.2 billion school bond and Proposition 8 for school reform in the November election. We wanted to follow the latter three measures because voters said before and throughout the election that education was the one issue that concerned them the most.

This election year had its share of surprises. From the start, the presidential sex scandal and congressional impeachment came in as background noise. At times, they seemed to drown out media coverage and distract public attention from the California elections. Although the events in Washington could have skewed the political views of the California electorate, the scandal offered an excellent opportunity to test public apathy in government and the depths of distrust in political leaders and our governance system. The California economy was booming, and residents were in a jubilant mood about the direction of the state. Jobs were being created, incomes were rising, and unemployment rates were sinking. Crime rates were on a sharp decline, leaving politicians without much to say about their perennial campaign issue. The state government was fretting over what to do with a budget surplus. The public mood was in stark contrast to that of four years earlier, when voter surveys found that people held a pessimistic vision of California's future and negative feelings about the current effects of immigration. The findings thus need to be viewed in terms of how Californians respond in good times.

The voters were confronted with stark contrasts in the governor and U.S. Senate candidates on the June primary ballot. In the governor's race, Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren did not have a serious challenger, while the Democratic choices included billionaire businessman Al Checchi, Lt. Governor Gray Davis, and U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman. In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer was uncontested, while the Republican choices included millionaire businessman Daryl Issa and State Treasurer Matt Fong. Record amounts of money were spent on the primary campaigns, reflecting at least in part the use of personal wealth to fund the television commercials aired by Al Checchi and Daryl Issa. The winners of the primary were from the political establishment-Dan Lungren and Gray Davis for the governor's race, and Barbara Boxer and Matt Fong for the U.S. Senate race. The fall campaigns were perhaps highlighted by the unprecedented four debates for the governor's race and two debates for the U.S. Senate race. Unfortunately, not one of the debates enjoyed statewide live television coverage by the major noncable stations. With minuscule coverage on television news broadcasts, both of these statewide elections again revolved around 30-second television commercials shown in the major media markets. In the end, Gray Davis was elected governor by a 20-point margin, and Barbara Boxer was elected U.S. senator by a 10-point margin.

This was not a quiet year for initiatives. Once again, initiative campaigns were funded with tens of millions of dollars from special interests, including but not limited to out-of-state businesses, gambling interests, political groups, tobacco companies, labor unions, and teachers' unions. Of the four initiatives that I closely followed, the largest infusion of money and the most television commercials were devoted to Proposition 226 on union contributions and Proposition 8 on school reform. Proposition 226 pitted business against labor groups in an expensive campaign. Proposition 8 got the attention of the state's teachers' unions, and they spent heavily to defeat it. However, Proposition 227 on bilingual education attracted the most controversy and most media attention, since it had a direct impact on the education of the growing Latino population. Proposition 1a had no major detractors, so the state's largest school bond measure in history received little attention. In the June primary, Proposition 226 for restricting union contributions failed, 46 to 54 percent, while Proposition 227 for changes in bilingual education passed, 61 to 39 percent. In the November election, Proposition 1a for school bonds passed, 63 to 37 percent, while Propos ition 8 for school reform lost, 37 to 63 percent.


It is important to note that predicting the winners and losers was not my intention in studying the 1998 elections. I wanted to understand why the voters were making the choices they made at the ballot box. I was interested in how the underlying social, economic, and political trends were influencing elections and public policy discussions in the state. Most important, I wanted to know about the influence of the three factors I see as significantly changing the social and political landscape of California: demographic diversity, regional diversity, and political distrust. For this reason, I gathered data from focus groups consisting of diverse groups of people in different regions of the state and conducted five large statewide public opinion surveys during and immediately following the 1998 election. This book offers an analysis of those original sources, supplemented with voting records and other published data.

The first stage of data collection consisted of a series of focus groups assembled in six regions of the state in January and February 1998. We conducted twelve focus group sessions with a total of 142 respondents. The participants were specifically chosen to reflect the regional, racial and ethnic, and political diversity of California. The groups also included a mix of men and women, a mix of voters and nonvoters, and participants of different ages. The main purpose in conducting the focus groups was to better understand the public's concerns and preferences regarding the political, social, and economic trends under way in the state. We also probed their thoughts about the upcoming state elections and initiatives. I have used the focus group information in two ways. First, hearing people describe the issues in their own terms helped me in writing the survey questions. Second, I gathered quotes from a wide variety of focus group participants on key issues, believing that it would be informative for the readers of this book if I could capture in people's own words their views on the state's changing social and political landscape.5

The main source of information for this book is a series of comprehensive public opinion surveys of California adult residents conducted in 1998.6 These surveys provide a more in-depth picture of the political process than does studying the results of voting in elections. Moreover, the surveys allow us to contrast the responses of those who are voting and those who are not, as well as those who are registered to vote and those who are not. In all, 10,037 California adult residents were interviewed in five separate random telephone surveys conducted throughout 1998, with each survey including representative samples of at least 2,000 adult residents and a minimum of 400 Latinos. The surveys each had questions, which generally varied from survey to survey, on five topics: the elections; California policy preferences; and political, social, and economic opinions. The interviews were translated into Spanish and conducted in English or Spanish as needed.

Two of the statewide surveys were conducted in early April and early May in advance of the June 2 primary. Another two were conducted in early September and early October, prior to the November 3 general election. The fifth survey was conducted in early December, a month after the election. Some of the questions were repeated across surveys, offering both "tracking questions" during the 1998 election cycle and an opportunity to combine responses for large samples of demographic and regional groups (e.g., Latinos, Central Valley residents, and independent voters). I also repeated a number of questions that were recently asked in national surveys, so that I could compare the state and the nation. I also repeated questions from statewide surveys that I conducted during the 1994 elections, so that I could see how policy preferences and political, social, and economic attitudes had changed.


This book is divided into six chapters. This chapter has provided an overview of the major challenges facing California today. The rapid growth and change of recent times will be followed by a potentially more dramatic transformation of the state in the next few decades. Several factors impede the state's ability to rise to this momentous challenge. These impediments represent the three major themes of this book, which are political distrust, racial and ethnic change, and regional diversity.

Chapter 2 takes a detailed look at California's overall political climate in recent years, paying particular attention to the causes of political distrust. I discuss how the lack of confidence in government exists within a broader framework of political apathy, civic disengagement, and declining voter involvement. I also identify the dimensions of political distrust and investigate whether this view is uniform across the population.

Chapter 3 returns to the theme of political distrust, considering two of the most important consequences of the voters' revolt against conventional politics. I examine the growing trend of disengagement from political parties and seek to understand how the "decline to state"-or independent-voters differ in their political attitudes and ballot choices from major-party voters. I also examine attitudes toward citizens' initiatives and efforts to reform the voting process, exploring the public's views of direct democracy relative to representative government.

Chapter 4 examines the state's racial and ethnic changes and includes an extensive analysis of the Latino population. California is on the verge of becoming a majority-minority state, that is, a state in which no racial or ethnic group represents over 50 percent of the total population. I discuss white attitudes toward race and immigration and then examine the voter participation rates and political attitudes of the Latino population. We were especially interested in learning how the increasing participation of Latinos in voting is likely to change the outcomes of the state's elections and policy debates.

Chapter 5 takes up the issue of regional diversity. I compare the evolving Central Valley and mega-suburbs of Orange County and the Inland Empire with the more established coastal metropolises of Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay area. The Central Valley and mega-suburbs are unique in their recent growth experiences and right-of-center politics, whereas the coastal metropolises have experienced racial and ethnic change from immigration and are more Democratic and liberal in their politics. We explore how these and other differences in regional outlook are affecting state elections and the ability to reach policy consensus.

Chapter 6 offers some perspectives on future directions for the Golden State. I first look at the perceptions of Californians in light of the future trends of population growth and demographic change. I discuss the likely social and political effects of these predicted changes. I then offer policy recommendations for overcoming the impediments of political distrust, racial and ethnic change, and regional diversity so that the state can successfully confront the challenges that lie ahead.