San Diego Is Really a Democratic City

by on August 19, 2011 · 8 comments

in California, Popular, San Diego

Don’t Believe the Hype Part II – Getting Historical

by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / August 18, 2011

Two months ago I took on some of the most persistent failures of conventional wisdom in San Diego politics, including that the city’s voters lean to the right. At the time, I pointed out that the city of San Diego is not only willing to elect Democrats, it voted for every possible Democrat in the November 2010 election by almost the exact same margin as the state overall. Now, California has become a reliably Democratic state over the last ten or twenty years, so it’s perhaps worth going back over a sample size a bit larger than last November.

For a brief statistical explanation, the reason for comparing to the state level is to allow for various ‘wave’ elections — Obama swung things left in 2008, there was a bit of a Republican swing in 2010, but these factors should impact the city of San Diego in roughly the same proportion as the state overall, so if there’s a difference at the local level, it would appear relative to the state level. Looking at the rest of the general elections of the last decade though simply reinforces the evidence from last fall: In these regularly scheduled November elections, the city of San Diego votes like the state overall, even leaning a bit more to the left. And while there are Republicans who have won citywide in these elections when actually running against a Democrat, the examples are few and far between.

November 2008: Slow year for the whole city to vote on anything. There were no statewide offices being contested, and Mayor Sanders had won his reelection in June with barely a Democrat on the ballot, much less campaigning. Nevertheless, Barack Obama won the city 62/36 over McCain while carrying the state 61/37. The only citywide race was the nonpartisan city attorney race, where Republican Jan Goldsmith waxed Mike Aguirre 59/40. The two are rather at odds with each other in terms of partisanship, which suggests that one is outside of normal patterns.

November 2006: Big year with all statewide offices being contested. Arnold Schwarzenegger cruised statewide to a 56/39 reelection while improving in San Diego to 66/30. Meanwhile, Dianne Feinstein was reelected by a 58/38 in SD and 59/35 statewide. John Garamendi was elected Lieutenant Governor by a 49/45 margin in the city and statewide. Debra Bowen was elected 48.5/44.5 in SD, 48/45 statewide. John Chiang took Controller with a wide margin of 56/37 in SD, 51/40 statewide. Bill Lockyer won Treasurer 55/37 in SD vs 54/37. Jerry Brown was elected Attorney General by 57/37 in SD, 56/38 statewide. Republican Steve Poizner broke up the run by becoming Insurance Commissioner by a 51/39 margin statewide, but only carried San Diego 49/41. Which means that in three cycles, the only Republicans who have won the city in general election are Jan Goldsmith over Mike Aguirre, Schwarzenegger over Phil Angelides, and Steve Poizner losing a third of his margin over Cruz Bustamante.

November 2004: Another relatively quiet year, but John Kerry won the city 55/44 while carrying the state of California 54/44. Meanwhile, Mike Aguirre was elected City Attorney in a razor-thin 50/49 win and Donna Frye as a write-in candidate received more than a third of all votes cast for mayor.

November 2002: A clean sweep for Democrats at the state level is almost entirely matched in San Diego. Gray Davis, Cruz Bustamante, Kevin Shelley, Phil Angelides, Steve Westly, and Bill Lockyer are all elected both statewide and in the city of San Diego. Only Republican Gary Mendoza manages to slip ahead in San Diego while losing statewide, doing so in a weirdly fractured race that left him the leader in San Diego with 41.8% of the vote.

Going back even further, let’s just look at the presidential impact. The last time that San Diego had a Democrat for mayor on the same ballot as a Democrat for President was 1992. That was the year that Bill Clinton won California with 46% of the vote and Democratic mayoral candidate Peter Navarro got 48% in his loss — outperforming Clinton. Before 1992, California was a reliable Republican state, going Republican six consecutive times and nine out of ten. Since then, it has gone Democratic every time, and there’s never been a Democratic mayoral candidate on the ballot to see what that means.

To review, we have 26 D vs R citywide general election match-ups going back to 2002. Republicans have won four, and only reached 50% twice. Those races run the gamut of incumbents to open seats, strong to weak campaigns, liberals to moderates to conservatives, the famous and the unknown. Every other citywide race has been without a Democrat contesting, resolved in a summer primary where turnout is much different, or a special election where all bets are off. Which leaves us a choice: We can look at those four and see them as exceptions, or we can look at those 22 and see them all as exceptions.

There’s no way to look at this and say that simple party affiliation will determine who wins the mayoral race next year. There are myriad other factors that come into play every time out of the gate. But that’s exactly the point. Consistent voter behavior shows is that in general elections, San Diego votes for Democrats if given the chance, but we simply have no idea what that means for a known Democrat running for mayor in a presidential year. It’s exciting, but it should also throw cold water on any prognosticators — there’s absolutely no historical precedence for what we’re heading into next year. Anything could happen.

Bob Filner, for example, faces a number of potentially debilitating challenges. For one, he’s significantly handicapped by the lack of existing infrastructure. It isn’t supposed to be the candidate’s job to party build, but Filner is effectively stuck with that job as well since that infrastructure hasn’t been built before now. He could prove ‘too liberal’ or maybe his personality won’t resonate. But there’s no actual electoral evidence to show that San Diego won’t vote for a strong Democrat running on core Democratic principles — instead it’s exactly the opposite.

Remember reality, and don’t believe the hype.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Allthink August 19, 2011 at 8:31 am

Bob Filner is speaking on the importance of moving past fossil fuels on Saturday, September 24 at Balboa Park. The event is part of an international campaign called Please join us at 11:00am – 1:00pm.

San Diego is still thought of as Repub – so lets change that with a Democratic Mayor in 2012.

Frank – Is there anyway to upload a flyer.


HappyTim August 19, 2011 at 8:55 am

At a national level I’m inclined to agree that San Diego is pretty much in the middle of California, supporting Democrats for president and Senators. US Reps are more local, so you see a different profile in the areas represented by Susan Davis (very Democratic) vs. Duncan Hunter (very Republican).

At the State and Local level, California Republicans tend to be much more moderate on social issues than their national party. The same voters who might support an Arnold may vote against GW Bush. Jerry Sanders is certainly fiscally conservative (although arguably not a far-right, union buster type) but hasn’t really made social issues a cornerstone of his policy. I’d also argue that in recent years fiscal conservatives are much more involved in local San Diego politics than liberals. It’s much easier to get out the vote for an Obama or even a Barbara Boxer than for a Democratic mayor candidate.


dorndiego August 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

VERY tight analysis, rising to the status of news
because it hasn’t been heard (enough). I wonder,
tho, if something I read years ago about the Repugs
abandoning the state of California to the Demo
trend didn’t also include flagging interest in
throwing their money at Orange County and
San Diego city. Think of all the bozos and lapdogs
they elected when San Diego was Nixon’s favorite.
And how many elected Dems they’ve always managed
to prosecute with purchased verdicts. They could
start up again as quickly as it takes Walmart to open
a new store.


Les Birdsall August 19, 2011 at 9:52 am

Dear Lucas,

San Diego, a Democratic city?

Not yet.

Yes, if you look at political registration and some voting patterns but no if you look at political power centers, the downtown Conservative Republican power brokers or the County Supervisors.

The soul of this city remains conservative Navy and Republican.

There is the promise of a new Democratic emergence, but look at the last bit of downtown Conservative Republican foolishness, the attempt to pack the school board with appointees. The proponents contained prominent Democrats who had no business lining up with such stupidity, except that is the power structure.

The election of Bob Filner to the mayor’s position would push this city toward a more Democratic soul but it’s going to take a lot of work.

Of course, in my view Democratic means Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson (absent the Vietnam war), and President Obama.


mario August 19, 2011 at 10:28 am

In many ways difference between the two parties at this point is non existent. This has proven to be hurtful to the American people and really the world at large. While there may be some differences between some of the economic policies between the party it is really sad to the way both have embraced the philospohy of WAR IS PEACE and that our CIVIL LIBERTIES need to take a back seat to our SECURITY. I think the best example of the dangers of BLIND PARTY ALLIGENCE is the way that the anti-war movement has totally capitulated underneat this OBAMA administration. Its as if all the mud getting slung at BUSH was just rhetoric. I don’t think this is TRUE but it seems that way because of the way that OBAMA ADMIN. has been able to control the opposition. NOT TO MENTION THAT SUSAN DAVIS IS totally in line with these new MILITARY ADVENTURES. Really I dont care what party you come from as long as you have a proven record of WORKING FOR THE PEOPLE and OBEYING THE LAWS/Constitution.


Mike August 19, 2011 at 11:36 am

I think you have a caps locked problem.


LuvSD August 19, 2011 at 11:08 am

This is about as meaningful and enlightening as hot stove baseball leagues. While the statistical analysis may be correct, it is still the fact that Rethugs have controlled the SD agenda going back to Squeaky Pete and Roger Woodchuck. To make matters worse, they have had the help of spineless and clueless Dems who can’t seem to find a party rationale other than “we’re not them!”.

I do disagree with Mario, above, as there is a difference between them; the Dems seem to get convicted at a slightly lesser rate than Rethugs.


Yati August 19, 2011 at 11:44 am

After what Bush did to the country and Arnold did to California; can you blame us for voting left?

You voters came out in droves because they witnessed college tuition increase dramatically as classes where slashed to record lows.

Boomers, saw how Bush was at the helm of the collapse in banking, mortgage, and auto industry. To add insult, Bernie and Enron were literally laughing all the way to bank as they bilked billions from us. Leaving thousands completely wiped out!

I’ll stop there and won’t go into the disaster that Arnold created.


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