How Conservative is Orange County?

Posted by in Politics

Andrew Sullivan received an email that has a familiar ring to it.

I am a 33 year old wife and a mom of a 15 month old boy living in a wealthy liberal enclave of Los Angeles called Hancock Park where people go to the farmers market on Sunday, discuss the “plight of the poor” as their nannies stroll their young ones in Bugaboo Frog ($800) strollers on the magnolia tree shaded sidewalks on Fridays, and bash Bush, well, everyday.

This is a very common scene in the wealthier parts of Orange County, a famous ‘Republican stronghold’. Personally, I think this description is a huge misnomer. I’ve been here since 1989, and while everyone loves to talk about how conservative Orange County is, the reality is quite different. And why shouldn’t it be? The moneymakers in Hollywood are largely Democrats. Billionaires like George Soros are definitely supporting the Kerry-Edwards team. Senator Kerry would like you to believe that he’s being propelled by the support of his middle- and lower-class base, but it ain’t necessarily so.

A typical Laguna Beach homeLast Saturday, Lesley and I were returning from an enjoyable ‘two martini lunch’ at the Salt Creek Grill and decided to drive through the inland portions of Laguna Beach. We wound our way past hundreds of homes, but not a single one was worth less than a million dollars. Most are probably in the $5 million range. We’re talking rich with a capital ‘R’. There were Kerry-Edwards signs on many of the lawns, but I didn’t see a single Bush-Cheney.

Lesley thought it was probably due to the fact that Laguna Beach is an art colony, but I’m not sure that’s the answer. Laguna Beach is home to several famous art festivals and galleries, and its heritage is certainly that of an artists colony. But the folks with $5 million homes and matching Mercedes 500 series convertibles aren’t artists, they’re corporate types and business owners with high paying jobs. I don’t mean to dog on Laguna Beach. It’s one of my favorite places. But the disparity in political advertising was curious.

Laguna Beach is even home to a sizeable Kerry campaign operation right on Pacific Coast Highway near the famous Pottery Shack (which recently went out of business, unfortunately). Here in Irvine, where the median home price is nearly a million bucks, I see the same pattern: lots of Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers, not a single one for the Bush campaign. The only place Bush paraphernalia has been in evidence is in the older sections of north Orange County. Fullerton. Santa Ana. Garden Grove. But these are much less affluent areas.

Could the answer be something as simple as a climate of fear among conservatives? I don’t think so. The most famous blogger from Orange County is Kevin Drum, a staunch Democrat. We’ve elected several Democrats to Congress, including two Senators. Village Voice Media felt strongly enough about O.C. that they publish a newspaper here. Not a very good one, mind you. But it’s the thought that counts. I would even go so far as to say that most of my friends are registered Democrats.

If you want numbers, UC Irvine 2000 Annual Study found that Orange County is much less conservative than is generally believed:

Often stereotyped as a bastion of conservatism, Orange County does not fit the profile when it comes to social issues, according to UC Irvine’s 2000 Orange County Annual Survey. Though most county residents describe themselves as moderate (31 percent) to conservative (43 percent) politically, many hold liberal views on social issues.

The study found that residents of O.C. favored abortion access, gun control, gays serving openly in military, strict environmental laws, and held some non-conservative views on the issue of income taxes.

So what’s going on here? Just a holdover from the time when ‘wealthy’ was associated with ‘conservative’? If that’s the case, Kerry must be the bizzaro candidate because he would hold the distinction of being the wealthiest occupant of the White House in American history. No one else even comes close. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Kerry household has a net worth of $1 billion.

If you live in O.C., I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how conservative the county is.