VENTURA COUNTY STAR
January 3, 2016
LATINOS TO PLAY A BIG ROLE
Ventura County expected to lean Democratic
By Mike Harris
Ventura County has leaned Democratic in the past two presidential elections and is likely to do so again in November, with Latino voters playing a significant role, political analysts say. “From the Republican stance, things don’t look good,” said Herb Gooch, a political scientist at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “From a Democratic stance, they look enormously favorable.”
He cited in part the approximately 21,000 voter registration advantage Democrats enjoy over Republicans in the county.
Adam Probolsky, an Orange County-based pollster who works on behalf of Republican congressional candidates, agreed. “You’re definitely a Democratic county,” he said. “You can’t ignore that.”
California is a winner take all state whose 55 Electoral College votes will go to whichever nominee wins the state’s popular vote. Ventura County leaning Democratic could add to the party’s statewide popular vote total and help it capture the state, which has not gone Republican in a presidential race since 1988.
Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, is the Democratic front-runner. Real estate billionaire Donald Trump is the current Republican favorite.
If the county again leans Democratic, it would confirm its shift from a Republican to Democrat advantage about a decade ago, analysts say. And that could spell trouble for local Republicans and their candidates for state Senate, Assembly and other seats appearing lower on the ballot, they say.
“That would be discouraging to Republican voters and candidates down ticket generally as they face Democrat incumbents and increasing Democratic registration advantage,” Gooch said.
Republican fundraising would take a hit, too, he said.
“Money giving goes to where the odds favor candidates, and incumbency and voter registration data are perhaps the two best predictors of who wins,” he said. “Without access to raising lots of money, the result is a downward, vicious cycle of party prospects.”
For years, Republicans held the registration advantage in Ventura County. That changed between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
The county currently has about 153,400 registered Democrats and 132,200 registered Republicans. There are about 86,000 registered independents and about 22,000 people registered with smaller parties such as Libertarian and Green.
“The demographics are trending Democratic,” said Scott Frisch, chairman of the CSU Channel Islands political science department.
In the 2012 presidential election, Ventura County favored Barack Obama and Joe Biden over Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan 52.2 to 45.2 percent. In 2008, Obama-Biden defeated Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin 55.2 to 42.9 percent in the county.
In 2004, the county favored Republicans George Bush and Dick Cheney over Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards 51.1 to 47.4 percent. It narrowly went for Bush and Cheney in 2000, 48.1 to 47.1 percent over Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.
Despite Republicans having a roughly 12,000 registered voter advantage in 1996, the county slightly favored the Democratic ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore over Republicans Bob Dole and Jack Kemp, 44 to 43.4 percent.
In general, the more affluent east county leans Republican while west county goes Democratic.
Latino voters could play a significant role in the county likely going Democratic, Frisch and Probolsky said.
“Nationally, Republicans, especially Trump, have done a lot of things to offend Latino voters,” Frisch said. “His rhetoric on immigration has been so inflammatory that it will give people who normally don’t have a stake in the process, who don’t know about the process, a reason to get informed and to turn out.”
Ventura County is 40.7 percent Hispanic, according to the Ventura County Civic Alliance’s 2015 State of the Region report.
Democrats realize Latinos are “a very ripe kind of constituency” and thus the party will likely pour money into registering them and getting them to turn out on Election Day, Frisch said.
“So I do think you may see a turnout spike in the more Latino parts of the county, particularly in Oxnard,” he said.
Probolsky said many of the county’s roughly 62,000 foreign-born registered voters, most of them from Latin America, aren’t going to vote Republican if Trump is the nominee. The same goes for the county’s estimated 30,000 Spanish-speaking registered voters, who overlap with the foreignborn voters, he said.
“I don’t think he lines up with their values,” Probolsky said with a laugh. The registration numbers he cites come from Political Data Inc., a top California voter research firm.
Gooch said several other local factors will benefit the Democratic presidential nominee. One is that Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, and Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks — “two strong Democratic incumbents” — are running for re-election and are “going to stimulate a vote that will probably translate into a strong leaning of the county toward Hillary Clinton.” Brownley’s 26th Congressional District and Irwin’s 44th Assembly District represent much of Ventura County.
But Frisch doesn’t think down-ballot races will drive voter turnout.
“It’s a presidential year, and I think the turnout variable is more indicative of what’s going on nationally — the big national issues that come along every four years,” he said.
Gooch said another factor that may play to the Democrats’ advantage is that the “Republican party seems as divided locally as nationally over a presidential candidate.”
Mike Osborn, chairman of the Ventura County Republican Party, said that’s only natural considering how many Republican candidates are running. At press time, there were 11.
“Any time you have more than one candidate prior to a primary, everyone is going to be divided on who they’re supporting,” he said. “The party is famous for coming together after a nominee is chosen and working for the nominee.”
Osborn said it’s premature to predict which way the county will lean.
“There are just a lot of things that could change in the next 10 months,” he said.
“There are just so many variables. I think you have to look at Ventura County historically. It’s been a tossup with small margins either way,” except for the last two presidential elections.
But Shawn Terris, the new chairwoman of the Ventura County Democratic Party, feels confident the county will go Democratic in November, citing in part the registration advantage.
“That alone does not necessarily mean anything,” she said. “However, Democrats do come out and vote in bigger numbers in presidential elections. Off years, they’re not as good, whereas Republican voters are pretty darn consistent in coming out and voting.
“So I do think Ventura County will vote blue,” she said.