Monday, June 1, 2009

Proposition 8 (2008): City-by-City Analysis

California voters last November ratified Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment against marriage equality/gay marriage that stated in full, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The amendment altered California’s due process and equal protection clauses in Article I, section 7 of the California Constitution (California’s version of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). It was the most significant change to this part of the state constitution since voters adopted an amendment against compulsory busing as a public school desegregation measure in the 1979 special statewide election (Proposition 1). Proposition 8 effectively overturned the May 2008 In re Marriage Cases decision of the California Supreme Court that struck down California’s statutes limiting marriage to heterosexual couples (especially Proposition 22-the Knight Initiative with identical text as Proposition 8, but ratified by voters as a statute rather than a constitutional amendment on the March 2000 ballot).

On May 30th and 31st, rallies for and against marriage equality were held in Fresno. Marriage equality advocates targeted Fresno, in part, because every city in the San Joaquin Valley voted in favor of Proposition 8 last November. Fresno itself voted 64.7% in favor of Proposition 8 (it had the weakest Yes vote within the six counties of the southern San Joaquin Valley; most cities in that region voted 70%+ in favor of Proposition 8).

CalPoltiCal has done an analysis of last November’s voting returns in all 58 California counties and 480 cities. As others have observed, political party is not necessarily the best predictor of voting on the marriage equality issue. Whereas many reliably Democratic, working class cities (such as Vallejo and Union City in the Bay Area, Compton in Los Angeles County and Colton in the Inland Empire) voted Yes on 8, many traditionally Republican, upscale cities (such as Atherton and Danville in the Bay Area and El Segundo and Westlake Village in southern California) voted No on 8. Here are the findings:


  • Voters cast 7.0 million ballots in favor of Proposition 8 and 6.4 million ballots against. The margin of victory for Proposition 8 was 599,602 votes.
  • The statewide percentage was 52.3% Yes-47.7% No. The city that came closest to the statewide result was Crescent City, California’s northernmost coastal city (it has voted for the national winner in 11 of the past 12 presidential elections). Crescent City voted 52.1%-47.9% in favor of Proposition 8.
  • The “drop-off” for Proposition 8 was remarkably low. Of the 13.7 million ballots cast in November 2008, 13.4 million expressed a Yes or No vote on Proposition 8 (a drop-off of 2.5%). Nearly 13.6 million ballots were cast for president (drop-off of 1.3%). Just 12.3 million total ballots were cast in California’s 53 congressional races (drop-off of 10.3%). In contrast, just 11.99 million voted on the Proposition 11-Redistricting measure (drop-off of 12.7%), the lowest turnout for the twelve statewide ballot measures in that election. This suggests that most Californians have made up their mind on the marriage equality issue; conversions rather than new voters likely will be key in any future “re-votes” on this issue.
  • 328 cities (68 percent) voted “Yes on 8;” 152 cities (32 percent) voted “No.”
  • The strongest Yes on 8 city was 81.7% in Maricopa in western Kern County (followed by Shafter in Kern County and Kingsburg in Fresno County).
  • The strongest No on 8 city was 87.4% in Berkeley (followed by Fairfax in Marin County and West Hollywood).
  • The most evenly divided city was Fremont in Alameda County. The split was 49.98% Yes-50.02% No (just a 33 vote lead for No out of 73,683 votes cast).
  • Three of the strongest six Yes on 8 cities (Shafter, Wasco, Dinuba), along with many others, supported Barack Obama for president. None of the No on 8 cities supported John McCain for president, but many No on 8 cities supported George W. Bush in 2000 or 2004 (e.g., Livermore and Pleasanton in Alameda County).


  • All cities in the Central Valley voted Yes on 8 except three: Sacramento, Davis and Chico.
  • As stated above, all 62 cities in the eight San Joaquin Valley counties (including the presidential election bellwethers of Modesto, Merced, Madera and Fresno) voted Yes on 8.
  • Livingston in Merced County (most famous as the headquarters of Foster Farms) voted Democratic in 12 of the past 12 presidential elections, yet voted 70% Yes on 8.
  • Live Oak, a “swing city” in Sutter County, voted 53% for Obama and 74% Yes on 8.
  • Just six cities in the Foothills, Sierra and trans-Sierra voted No on 8: Amador, South Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes and all three cities in Nevada County (Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee). Nevada and Mono counties were the only inland counties wherein all cities voted No on 8 (but their unincorporated areas voted Yes).
  • Just two cities in inland California north of Chico voted No: Dunsmuir and Mt. Shasta in Siskiyou County.

INLAND EMPIRE (San Bernardino and Riverside counties) & IMPERIAL COUNTY:

  • All Inland Empire cities voted Yes on 8 except one: Palm Springs.
  • All Imperial County cities voted Yes on 8 as all simultaneously favored Barack Obama for president.
  • San Bernardino County (2007 population: 2.0 million) was the most populous county wherein no city voted No on 8.
  • Colton, the most reliable Democratic community in San Bernardino County, voted 66% Yes on 8.
  • Coachella, which has voted Democratic in 12 of the past 12 presidential elections, supported Proposition 8 with 67%.
  • Rancho Mirage (most famous as the retirement home of the late President Gerald Ford), which was never voted Democratic for president since its incorporation in 1973, voted 49.0% No on 8 and 46.1% for Obama. It is one of the few communities statewide where the No on 8 vote percentage exceeded the Obama vote percentage.


  • Of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, just 21 voted No on 8. This figure stands in stark contrast to the 74 cities that Barack Obama won in the same election. Fifty-three (53) cities in Los Angeles County alone backed Obama for president yet supported Proposition 8.
  • Eight of the 21 L.A. County communities where No on 8 prevailed are beach communities: Malibu, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Long Beach. Another No on 8 city, Signal Hill, is surrounded by another (Long Beach).
  • Three are Westside communities: Beverly Hills, Culver City and West Hollywood.
  • Three are in the Pasadena area: Pasadena, South Pasadena and Sierra Madre.
  • Four are small, upscale hill cities west of the San Fernando Valley: Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village.
  • The two remaining No on 8 cities in L.A. County are Burbank and Claremont, a college town.
  • Noticeably missing in the above list are stalwart Democratic cities. Many Democratic strongholds voted strongly Yes on 8. Carson, Compton, Gardena, Inglewood, Irwindale and Lynnwood for example, voted 60+ percent Yes.
  • Some traditionally Republican, upscale communities voted narrowly in favor of Proposition 8: Avalon, La Canada-Flintridge and Palos Verdes Estates.


  • All cities in Orange County voted Yes on 8 except four: Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Irvine and Laguna Beach.
  • Dana Point and Newport Beach came close to voting No on 8. They voted Yes 51.1% and 51.3% respectively.


  • Four cities in San Diego County, all coastal communities, voted No on 8: Del Mar, Encinitas, San Diego and Solana Beach.
  • National City, the most reliably Democratic community in the county, voted 66% in favor of Proposition 8.


  • Monterey County delivered a “split verdict” on a coastal/inland fault line, with all seven of the coastal cities (Monterey, Carmel, etc.) voting No and all five of the Salinas Valley/U.S. 101 corridor cities (Salinas, etc.) voting Yes.
  • San Benito County also had a split result, with San Juan Bautista voting No and Hollister voting Yes.
  • All four cities in Santa Cruz County voted No, with a narrow No vote in Watsonville.
  • Just seven cities voted No on 8 in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Along with the three cities that share their names with their counties, the No cities were Morro Bay, Carpinteria, Goleta and Ojai.
  • Thousand Oaks in Ventura County narrowly voted Yes (50.4%); it voted Republican for 11 of the past 12 presidential elections (Obama was the first Democrat ever to win that city since incorporation in 1964).


  • The Bay Area & North Coast region is the one part of California where No on 8 dominated. In the coastal counties north of San Francisco, just three cities voted “Yes on 8”: Rio Dell, Fortuna and Crescent City.
  • Just 18 cities of the 101 cities in the nine-county Bay area voted “Yes on 8”:
    • Six of the Bay Area’s “Yes on 8” cities were in Solano County (Vallejo, Suisun City, Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon and Rio Vista). Benicia was the only Solano County city that voted No.
    • Another six of the Bay Area’s “Yes on 8” cities were in Contra Costa County (Hercules and San Pablo in West County plus Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood in East County).
    • The only Alameda County city that voted “Yes on 8” was Union City, but the win for No was razor-thin in Fremont (a switch of 17 votes would have made it a “Yes” city), Hayward, Livermore and Newark.
    • American Canyon was the only Napa County city that voted Yes.
    • Three of the 15 cities in Santa Clara County voted Yes: Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
    • East Palo Alto was the only San Mateo County that voted Yes. A Democratic stronghold, East Palo Alto was the only city in the U.S. 101 corridor that voted Yes on 8 between Morgan Hill south of San Jose and Rio Dell near Eureka.
    • Vallejo, Hercules, East Palo Alto and Union City were the only Bay Area cities with Bay frontage that voted Yes on 8.
  • San Francisco and all cities in Marin and Sonoma counties voted No.
  • Lake County has emerged as a statewide bellwether in the past 20 years; it has one of the best records of supporting the statewide winner (it voted 52.0%-48.0% on Proposition 8, very close to the statewide result of 52.3%-47.7%). Lake County’s two cities and unincorporated area voted Yes on 8.

In the nine-county Bay Area, the Yes on 8 votes were concentrated in five sub-areas:

  • Northern Solano County’s rapidly-growing “swing” cities (Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon, Rio Vista),
  • Eastern Contra Costa County’s rapidly-growing “swing” cities (Antioch, Oakley, Brentwood),
  • Southern Santa Clara County’s rapidly-growing cities (Morgan Hill and Gilroy),
  • Southern Alameda County/Milpitas (Union City, Fremont, Newark, Milpitas) and
  • Working-class, ethnically-diverse Democratic stalwart cities (Vallejo, Pittsburg, San Pablo, Hayward, East Palo Alto).

The cities in the first three sub-areas tend to be “swing” communities in close elections. The latter two sub-areas should be of most concern to the pro-marriage equality advocates. Many of these cities have voted reliably for Democratic candidates in every election during the past 50 years; they generally are so loyal to the Democratic party and progressive causes that their support is assumed (and arguably taken for granted).


  1. White Collar Target: If Proposition 8 is to be overturned, the most sympathetic ears (and perhaps financial support) for marriage equality are likeliest to be found in traditionally Republican, upscale communities such as those on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (a McCain “hot spot”) in Los Angeles County, Thousand Oaks in Ventura County and Rancho Mirage in Riverside County. As a rule of thumb, the closer a community is to saltwater and/or the more nestled it is within picturesque hills, the more likely it is to be friendly to marriage equality.
  2. Blue Collar Target: A second set of targets is reliably Democratic, working class communities such as Vallejo, Compton and Colton, many of which voted two to one against marriage equality in 2008. Many of these cities probably cannot be converted to favor marriage equality, but reducing the number of anti-marriage equality votes is crucial so that other areas of the state can provide the winning margin.
  3. Swing City Target: The third set of targets is bellwether/“battleground” communities such as Lakeport and Hollister, places that “pick the winners” of most statewide elections. Marriage equality supporters need to talk “to” (not “at”) people in these communities, listen to their concerns and adjust arguments accordingly. As stated above, conversions rather than new voters likely will be key in any future “re-votes” on the marriage equality issue.

Look to these cities/areas for possible conversion (Yes on 8 vote in 2008 – statewide was 52.3%):

  • Central Valley/Foothills/Sierra/Northstate: Dunsmuir (49.2%), Grass Valley (49.8%), unincorporated Yolo County (51.5%), West Sacramento (52.6%)
  • Bay Area & North Coast: Newark (49.0%), Livermore (49.1%), Millbrae (49.2%), Colma (49.3%), Hayward (49.6%), Ferndale (49.6%), Clayton (49.7%), Daly City (49.9%), Fremont (50.0%), Morgan Hill (50.3%), Gilroy (51.2%), Hercules (51.3%), Union City (51.7%), East Palo Alto (51.7%), Lakeport (51.7%), Unincorporated Lake County (51.8%), San Pablo (52.0%), Crescent City (52.1%), Vallejo (52.6%)
  • Central Coast: Marina (49.2%), Watsonville (49.2%), Thousand Oaks (50.4%)
  • Los Angeles County: Avalon (51.2%), Palos Verdes Estates (51.4%), La Canada-Flintridge (51.6%), Monrovia (51.7%)
  • Inland Empire: Rancho Mirage (51.0%)
  • Orange County: Costa Mesa (49.5%), Dana Point (51.1%), Newport Beach (51.3%)
  • San Diego County: La Mesa (50.6%), Carlsbad (51.0%)

If there is a “re-vote” on the marriage equality issue at a future statewide election, which appears likely, then the abortion-minors-parental notification issue (Proposition 85 in 2006, Proposition 4 in 2008) offers a precedent. Proposition 4 had the second-largest number of votes cast for it among the twelve statewide ballot measures in November 2008. The vote was 48.0% Yes-52.0% No. This was a slight improvement for the “yes” vote over a similar measure that appeared on the November 2006 ballot as Proposition 85 (45.8% Yes-54.2% No). Although Proposition 85 (2006)/Proposition 4 (2008) is a “conservative”-sponsored ballot measure, its movement in support in just two years suggests that statewide sentiment is not so ossified on a divisive social issue that a repeat appearance on the ballot in rapid succession can bring about a different outcome.