Move Over, OC, Placer County's Now Bastion of Conservatism

Thomas Shaller of FiveThirtyEight--a website that takes its name from the 535 electoral college votes as it crunches polling data and other numbers--makes a compelling case that Placer County in Northern California is the new Orange County when it comes to bastions of conservatism.

While Orange County is credited with giving root to Barry Goldwater's turning-point presidential campaign of 1964 and proceeding to deliver strong Republican majorities for four decades, "[n]o such political treatments have been written about California's Placer County, a narrow, east-west horizontal strip of land about 80 miles northeast of Sacramento that borders Nevada," Shaller writes. "But today Placer County is more emblematic--or symptomatic, to be precise--of the state of American conservatism than Orange County."

He backs up this assertion with data and anecdotal evidence.

-Though 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain carried California's Fourth Congressional District, which includes Placer, by just 10 points, four years earlier George W. Bush won it by 24 points. In November 2008, 60 percent of Placer voters supported the state's Proposition 8 gay marriage ban, two points higher than Orange County.

-Placer County was recently cited as the state's "worst offender" in the disgraceful practice of homeless dumping, wherein homeless people are rounded up and driven to neighboring counties and left there so the county can avoid any social or financial responsibility for them.

-Arch-conservative Congressman Tom McClintock boasted on his 2008 campaign website that his Fourth District is "widely considered to be California's most conservative." He is avowedly anti-choice and opposed to same-sex marriage--typical positions for conservative Republicans. He opposed the so-called "Lilly Ledbetter Act"--named for a female manager at a Goodyear tire plan in Alabama who learned that men with same position were paid significantly higher salaries--and bucked his own Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's call for higher vehicle emission standards.

-Compared to OC, Placer today is less diverse, less densely populated, older, and more rural. It also has higher high school graduation rates, and higher home ownership rates; in fact, its homeownership rate exceeds the average statewide and even in Orange County. Placer's per capita building permit rate in 2007 was thrice that of Orange's. The median home value in Placer now exceeds the statewide median and, although it lags slightly behind Orange County's, when cost-of-living is taken into account any real difference evaporates. Likewise, Placer's slightly lower median household income is compensated by its lower cost-of-living.

The author also puts Orange County under his microscope and discovers "a steady retreat from its traditionally strong Republican roots. Carried by a Democratic presidential candidate just twice--by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936--Orange is fast becoming a purple county. In 2008, Barack Obama almost won it."


Shaller's conclusion: "In the story of modern American conservatism, Placer is the new Orange. But that replacement is symptomatic of conservatism's decline, because Placer is simply too small and remote to effect the kind of conservative revolution Orange County did a half a century ago. A rural outpost, Placer is a place to escape from, not push back against, the political changes occurring in America."


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