Data Tracker

California hasn’t always been so blue in presidential races

Supporters pose for pictures with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Sacramento City College in June 2016. Clinton is on pace to carry Sacramento and 31 other counties in Tuesday’s election.
Supporters pose for pictures with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Sacramento City College in June 2016. Clinton is on pace to carry Sacramento and 31 other counties in Tuesday’s election. rbyer@sacbee.com

If vote percentages hold over the coming weeks of counting late-arriving mail and provisional ballots, Hillary Clinton will have carried 32 of California’s 58 counties in Tuesday’s presidential election, including all but three of the state’s 20 largest.

The state’s trove of electoral votes once again will go to a Democrat, as they have in every presidential election since Bill Clinton won the state in 1992 on his way to the White House.

Yet the Golden State hasn’t always been such a deep shade of presidential blue. From 1952 through 1988, the Republican presidential nominee carried the state in every election except 1964, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson won a landslide over Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Some of the those elections nevertheless were close. Republican Richard Nixon, despite his Whittier roots, eked out a home-state win over Democrat John Kennedy, who barely won nationwide in 1960. And in 1976, Republican Gerald Ford narrowly topped Democrat Jimmy Carter in the state.

President George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to carry California, in 1988 against Michael Dukakis.

The shift in California’s presidential preferences reflected political sea changes in its counties. A century ago, Republican Charles Hughes carried Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Alameda counties while Democrat Woodrow Wilson ran up large margins in the Central Valley and far-northern parts of the state as he carried California and the Nov. 7, 1916, election.

Today, Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties, along with much of the coast, are cornerstones of Democrats’ California dominance. Most of the Valley and rural parts of the state, meanwhile, consistently support Republicans.

The reasons behind the shift in the state’s presidential leanings are many, but among the most significant were changes in Los Angeles County, the state’s largest, during the 1990s. The aerospace industry downsized, the labor movement grew, and the county’s Latino population increased significantly and became more politically active, benefiting Democrats.

If Clinton’s lead over Trump holds at the current level, it will be a presidential candidate’s largest margin of victory since 1936, when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt defeated Republican Alf Landen by 35.25 percentage points, according to Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Clinton leads Trump by 29 percentage points statewide, with an estimated 4 million unprocessed ballots left to count.

Among counties, Clinton’s largest margin of victory was in San Francisco, where she topped Trump by 79.2 percentage points. Trump polled best in Lassen County, where he leads Clinton by 53.2 percentage points.

Bee staff writer Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

Data Tracker is a regular feature that breaks down the numbers behind today’s news. Explore more trends at sacbee.com/datatracker.

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