CalPolitical has analyzed statistics for all six gubernatorial elections in the past twenty years (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006), comparing city-level data with statewide returns. Each percentage point that a city deviated from the statewide percentage for the Democratic and Republican candidate was summed to determine a “cumulative deviation” score (expressed as “points”). A city that perfectly matched the statewide percentages for the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates in all six elections would have a score of zero (0.0) points. This analysis identified the fifteen cities that most closely mirror the statewide outcome:
- Los Baños (Merced County), 14.6 points
- Cathedral City (Riverside County), 16.8 points
- Morro Bay (San Luis Obispo County), 18.9 points
- Winters (Yolo County), 19.6 points
- Newman (Stanislaus County), 20.2 points
- Dublin (Alameda County), 21.7 points
- Morgan Hill (Santa Clara County), 22.0 points
- Claremont (Los Angeles County), 23.1 points
- Los Gatos (Santa Clara County), 26.3 points
- Merced (Merced County), 27.7 points
- Duarte (Los Angeles County), 28.7 points
- Kerman (Fresno County), 29.6 points
- South Lake Tahoe (El Dorado County), 29.7 points
- San Diego (San Diego County), 29.9 points
- Riverbank (Stanislaus County), 30.1 points
Los Baños - No. 1 Gubernatorial Bellwether City
As Los Baños votes, so goes the California governorship. Many Californians best know that western Merced County community (26,000 population in 2000) as a “pit stop” on Highway 152 between Interstate 5 and State Route 99 -- the four-lane Highway 152 expressway literally runs through the heart of downtown. Some residents commute to Silicon Valley jobs, but agribusiness is the local economic engine. In the late 1800s, Los Baños was the headquarters of the immense Miller & Lux agricultural empire; today this is remembered via a statue and cattle sculptures in Henry Miller Plaza.
In 2006, Los Baños voted Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) 56.9% - Phil Angelides (D) 39.0%, very close to the statewide figures (55.9% R-38.9% D). In 1998, in the Democratic landslide, Los Banos voted Gray Davis (D) 60.0%-Dan Lungren (R) 37.9%, compared to 58.0%-38.4% statewide.
The overall population of Los Baños cannot be described as a demographic microcosm of California. In 2000, it was 50.4% Hispanic/Latino versus 32.4% statewide. It has smaller African-American (4.3%) and Asian (2.3%) populations than California as a whole (6.7% and 10.9% respectively statewide).
In terms of voter registration (as of May 24, 2010), Los Baños is more Democratic, less "Independent" and just as Republican as the statewide electorate (Los Baños: 49.2% D, 30.5% R, 16.5% Decline-to-State/Independent vs. California: 44.5% D, 30.8% R, 20.2% DTS/Ind). Exhibiting quintessential San Joaquin Valley Democratic behavior, many Los Baños Democrats regularly vote for Republican candidates -- they are actually "independent" voters who have not bothered to abandon their Democratic registration (known as "Valleycrats").
Four other San Joaquin Valley cities are in top 15: Newman (6th), Merced (10th), Kerman (12th) and Riverbank (15th).
Cathedral City - No. 2 Gubernatorial Bellwether City
Cathedral City, located in Riverside County’s Coachella Valley, is the No. 2 gubernatorial bellwether city. It had 43,000 population in 2000 and is now majority Hispanic/Latino (50.0 percent in 2000). Many of its working class residents provide services to the wealthy enclaves in Rancho Mirage (now home of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, formerly of Marin County) and Palm Desert.
Cathedral City voted Davis 58.1%–Lungren 38.1% in 1998 (vs. 58.0%-38.4% statewide) and Schwarzenegger 56.6% –Angelides 39.4% in 2006 (vs. 55.9%-38.9% statewide). Its neighbors Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs respectively ranked as the 23rd-best and 47th-best bellwethers. Other nearby communities in the Coachella Valley are among the staunchest partisan stalwarts: Coachella (356 "points," 13th from bottom of bellwether list) reliably votes Democratic; Indian Wells (338 points, 18th from bottom) is a reliably Republican city.
In 2008, California supported Proposition 8, 52.2%-47.8%. The result in Cathedral City was relatively close, 52.7%-47.3%.
Of the top 25 gubernatorial bellwether cities, Cathedral City has the highest Republican registration (39.3%) and the smallest gap percentage-wise between Democratic and Republican registration (2.4 percentage points).
Morro Bay - No. 3 Gubernatorial Bellwether City
Morro Bay, the No. 3 gubernatorial bellwether, is a small city on the San Luis Obispo County coast. Morro Rock, a 581-foot volcanic plug, looms over the community. A major trans-Pacific cable, a conduit for much of the telephone and internet traffic between North America and Asia, makes landfall nearby. Morro Bay is the most politically moderate coastal city in California. In 1994, it voted Pete Wilson (R) 55.7%-Kathleen Brown (D) 40.4% (vs. 55.2%-40.6% statewide).
Registration-wise, Morro Bay is slightly less Democratic and more Republican than California as a whole (Morro Bay: 41.1% D, 32.8% R, 19.8% DTS/Ind vs. California: 44.5% D, 30.8% R, 20.2% DTS/Ind). It has twice the proportion of registered Greens (1.4% Morro Bay vs. 0.7% statewide).
Other Cities: Dublin, Morgan Hill, Los Gatos, Claremont, San Diego
Dublin, the No. 6 bellwether (30,000 population in 2000), is in the independent-minded Tri-Valley section of otherwise reliably Democratic Alameda County. In 1998, it voted Davis 58.5%–Lungren 37.9% (vs. 58.0%-38.4% statewide). Nearly one-quarter of Dublin's voters (24.7%) are registered as "Decline to State." The neighboring cities of Livermore and Pleasanton rank as the 67th- and 75th-best gubernatorial bellwethers.
The other Bay Area cities at the top of the gubernatorial bellwether list are Morgan Hill (No. 7) and Los Gatos (No. 9). Both are in the 15th Senate District, which is the only Bay Area state legislative district represented by a Republican (newly-elected Sen. Sam Blakeslee).
Ranking eighth on the gubernatorial bellwether list, Claremont is perhaps the most moderate “college town” in California. Home to the seven-member Claremont Colleges consortium, Claremont is not a Democratic bastion like Berkeley, Davis, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz. The neighboring city of Montclair ranks 73rd on the bellwether list. Duarte, the second-best gubernatorial bellwether in Los Angeles County (11th statewide), also is located in the San Gabriel Valley.
Kerman, the 12th-best gubernatorial bellwether, has the highest Democratic registration and lowest "decline-to-state" registration among the top 25 cities (49.5% D vs. 32.4% R vs. 11.4% Decline-to-State).
South Lake Tahoe, thirteenth on the gubernatorial bellwether list, has the highest "decline-to-state" registration (26.7%) and lowest Republican registration (24.2%) among the top 15 cities.
San Diego, California’s second-most populous city (1.22 million in 2000), is the only city over 100,000 population on the top-15 gubernatorial bellwether list. Ranked 14th, it has large concentration of “swing voters.” Although Pete Wilson was mayor from 1970 to 1982, San Diego favored him by just moderate amounts above his statewide margins in his 1990 and 1994 gubernatorial bids. In 1990, San Diego voted Pete Wilson 52.4%-Dianne Feinstein 41.8% (vs. 49.3%-45.8% statewide). In 1994, San Diego re-elected Wilson over Kathleen Brown, 57.1%-38.5% (vs. 55.2%-49.6% statewide).
Ventura: Distorted by McClintock's "Favorite Son" Vote in 2003 Recall Election
Although Ventura was the city that most closely reflected the statewide returns in 2006 (Schwarzenegger 55.8%-Angelides 39.1% in Ventura vs. statewide 55.9%-38.9%), it ranked as the 17th-best bellwether since 1990. The greatest deviation occurred in the 2003 special gubernatorial recall election, when Tom McClintock won 22.2% of the Ventura city vote versus 13.4% statewide. McClintock was then Ventura’s state senator, causing a “favorite son” distortion of its results.
"LaMOrinda" Area of Contra Costa County: Cluster of Gubernatorial Bellwethers
The "Lamorinda" area of central Contra Costa County includes Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda. Walnut Creek is to the immediate east. Three of these cities are relatively high on the gubernatorial bellwether list: Lafayette (27th), Walnut Creek (32nd) and Orinda (51st). (Moraga is out of the top 100 -- it has moderated, but has been more Republican than its neighbors.) These communities were heavily Republican until the 1980s, but have become more "middle-of-the-road" in the 1990s and '00s. All four cities favored Pete Wilson over Dianne Feinstein in 1990, all by larger margins than statewide. In 1998, all four supported Gray Davis over Dan Lungren, but support for Davis lagged his statewide figure. In 2003, all four cities backed Schwarzenegger over Cruz Bustamante.
Lamorinda looms large on the political map, far exceeding its size. Its wealthy and highly-educated citizens are politically-active. They are regular voters and generous in their political campaign contributions. The Lamorinda Democratic Club has one of the largest memberships of any political club in California; gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides addressed the club on his five-day, 19-city campaign launch tour in March 2005. Although Lamorinda has half the population of Antioch, its turnout in the 2006 election exceeded Antioch by 31 percent. Orinda city councilman Steve Glazer is Jerry Brown's campaign manager.
Long Beach, Fremont, Concord: No Longer Gubernatorial Bellwethers
Several cities were once "bellwethers" in gubernatorial elections, but now have fallen back into the Democratic pack. These include large "suburban" cities that have become more ethnically diverse in the past thirty years (and therefore usually more Democratic).
Long Beach once was a Republican-leaning gubernatorial bellwether, but now has a Democratic trend. It ranks 39th on the bellwether list. In 1990, Long Beach voted Wilson 48.6%-Feinstein 46.6% (vs. 49.3%-45.8% statewide). In 1998, it stunned hometown Republican candidate Dan Lungren by favoring Gray Davis by wider than Davis’s statewide margin: Davis 62.4%-Lungren 34.2% (vs. 58.0%-38.4% statewide). Lungren represented a Long Beach-based congressional seat from 1979 to 1988. Lungren opted to return to Congress in 2004 from a seat in the Sacramento area.
Fremont, in southern Alameda County, also has lost its gubernatorial bellwether status (ranking well out of the top 100). In the narrow 1982 election, Fremont helped to decide the outcome, voting George Deukmejian 48.9%-Tom Bradley 47.7% (vs. 49.3%-48.1% statewide). In 2003 and 2006, Schwarzenegger’s percentages in Fremont (2003-36.8%, 2006-49.4%) were much smaller than his statewide figures (48.6%, 56.9%). As of May 2010, Fremont had the eight-highest "decline-to-state" registration in California (29.5%) -- Cupertino, a fellow "Silicon Valley" community, had the highest (38.0%) and neighboring Milpitas was third (33.0%).
Concord, in central Contra Costa County, was once a gubernatorial bellwether, too. In 1982, Concord voted Deukmejian 49.3%-Bradley 47.3% (vs. 49.3%-48.1% statewide). For 1990 to 2006, it is the 88th-best bellwether.
Caveat: Cities Incorporated After 1990 Excluded
The top-15 list excludes cities that were incorporated after 1990. For example, Laguna Woods (incorporated 1999, Orange County), Oakley (incorporated 1999, Contra Costa County) and Windsor (incorporated 1992, Sonoma County) would have ranked in or near the top fifteen if complete data were available.
Compton: Least Predictive City in California Gubernatorial Elections
The five cities that are least predictive of California gubernatorial elections are: Compton in Los Angeles County (456 points), East Palo Alto in San Mateo County (426 points), Berkeley in Alameda County (425 points), Inglewood in Los Angeles County (399 points) and Oakland in Alameda County (398 points). All five are Democratic stalwarts. The Republican stalwart city that is least predictive is Villa Park in Orange County (357 points). Rolling Hills on L.A. County's Palos Verdes Peninsula (17th from bottom, 339 points) and Indian Wells in Riverside County (18th from bottom, 338 points) are the 2nd- and 3rd-lowest Republican cities on the gubernatorial bellwether list.