The Socially Conservative State of…California?


California is generally thought of as a very liberal place. The Democratic Party is certainly doing well; Republicans are at an all-time low almost everywhere in the state.

This applies to social positions as well. The stereotype is that Californians are very socially liberal. California is, after all, home to San Francisco and Berkeley – the natural environment of the godless hippie and homosexual. Hollywood is also located in California, and Hollywood’s not exactly a bastion of social conservatism.

It may surprise some, then, to note that in the past four years Californians have voted against gay marriage, marijuana, and the abolition of the death penalty. These positions were debated in three successive propositions. Each time the socially conservative side won. Here are the numbers:

Proposition What It Proposed Socially Conservative Side Socially Liberal Side
8 No to Gay Marriage 52.2% 47.8%
19 Legalizing Marijuana 53.5% 46.5%
34 Abolishing the Death Penalty 52.0% 48.0%

Each of the propositions had different things going on. Gay marriage was widely expected to win, and it shocked liberals when the people said no. Legal marijuana at first appeared to have majority support. But as the details of the proposition for legal marijuana came out (it was said to be badly written), its numbers plummeted. On the other hand, few paid attention to Proposition 34. The abolishment of the death penalty was never expected to pass, and it surprised few when it didn’t. Yet the end results are remarkably similar for the different contours that the propositions took.

From the numbers, it looks like there’s a socially conservative majority of 52% to 53% of Californians.

Ironically, the social conservatism displayed here might be a side-effect of the same forces behind the Democratic Party’s rise. The growing Hispanic and Asian vote leans strongly Democratic; it’s why the Republicans are collapsing in California. At the same time, Hispanics and Asians (especially immigrants) are – as Republicans never tire of saying – are often socially conservative. South-Central Los Angeles might give the Democratic candidate 80-90% of the vote. That doesn’t mean that it will support gay marriage, legalized marijuana, or the abolishment of the death penalty.

It’s too bad that Republicans can’t channel this social conservatism amongst immigrants into support for the Republican Party.

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5 Responses to The Socially Conservative State of…California?

  1. Jerry says:

    Sorry to bust your ‘natural conservatives’ narrative, but if you look at the most current polling numbers you’ll find that Hispanics and Asian voters’ views on gay marriage are not all that different from that of whites. It’s true that the older and first generation immigrants bring some of their regressive social views with them to this country, but most of them don’t or aren’t eligible to vote anyways so their views are irrelevant, politically.

  2. E C says:

    By the way, there have also been recent polls showing solid support for gay marriage now in California. If you extrapolate from the 2008 polls and account for the Bradley effect, studies show that about 58% of Californians would now vote against Prop. 8.

  3. E C says:

    California is far more socially liberal than the country as a whole. All of the results that you posted should be looked at from a national perspective. Back in 2008, analysis of polls showed that around 60% of Americans would have approved of a gay marriage ban. In Florida, 62% of the electorate voted to ban gay marriage AND civil unions. In California, that number voting for just a gay marriage ban ended up being only 52%, therefore making it about 8% more liberal than the country. Similarly, on the marijuana proposition in 2010, a solid majority of the midterm electorate in America as a whole (which is tilts older and more socially conservative than a presidential election electorate) would have voted to ban marijuana that year. The death penalty, according to every poll, enjoys overwhelming support nationwide, and the fact that 48% of Californians voted to end it actually makes California one of the most anti-death-penalty states in America.

    It’s also worth noting that Prop. 4, which would require parental notification on abortion, failed in 2008. How many states do you think would actually vote to reject such an amendment?

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