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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Purple California: Politics and Regional Realities in the Golden State

  • Author(s): Abrams, Samuel Jeremy
  • et al.

For decades, academics and observers alike have characterized California as being two separate states with those living in Northern California being socially and politically very different from the citizens of Southern California. More recently, pundits, professors, and politicos have argued that California no longer has a pronounced north-south divide, but rather an inland and coastal division has emerged due to demographic changes that produced a political and geographic partition. Proponents of this inland/coastal view argue that it looks like the liberal blue state and conservative red state divide where the California coast has politically realigned to look like New York while the inland valleys and deserts now look like Texas or the South. Taking advantage of over 60 years of statewide electoral data along with time-series public opinion data, this paper argues that the notion of  ‘two Californias’ is incorrect. Electoral records reveal that California has not turned into a state with deep political-geographic divisions.  It is firmly a purple state with regions and localities that are pragmatic and rarely show party line voting and one-sided political behavior. While elite level politicians and organizations may present polarized choices and options and candidates that seemingly lead to occasional electoral results that make regions appear drastically different, greater nuance and a broader analysis of the historical trends reveal a purple California, not red or blue regions in the Golden State.

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