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A Banner Year for California Democrats: Better Than the Post Watergate 1976 Election?


Some astute political observers are seeing a parallel between this year’s general election in California and the elections of 1976 when the Republican Party cratered in the aftermath of Watergate.

I remember 1976 very well. It was the year I graduated from law school, passed the bar, became an attorney, and began working for an Assemblymember from Southern California as his Administrative Assistant in his Sacramento office.

With a remarkably unpopular Republican President in the White House, Democrats surged both in party registration and votes at the polls and had a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and the California State Senate. Jerry Brown had just been elected Governor and I had a great time as a 25 year old kid drafting a slug of legislation much of which wound its way through the labyrinth of the legislative process and became law. It was an exciting time.

Lest you think this is just wistful thinking, take a look at some figures Bob Mulholland, campaign advisor to the California Democratic Party, sent me last week. You’ll be surprised that the surge of Democratic voter registration and collapse of the California Republican Party is, if anything, even more pronounced than it was in 1974--at the height of the Watergate scandals.

At the close of registration before the June Primary, I wrote about this voter registration surge for Democrats and what it means for some of the closer races for seats in the California legislature where Democrats already enjoy a 48 to 32 margin in the Assembly over Republicans and a 25 to 15 advantage in the State Senate. Others have written about U.S. House races and how the Democrats are poised to contest Republicans in some California districts that were entirely out of reach in past elections and stand to pick up seats in November.

Looking at the data from the California Secretary of State’s Office, Mulholland notes:

“Of the 411,034 new voters registered in CA (1/22 - 5/19/08), Democrats gained 304,454 new voters while the Republicans gained a measly 14,969 new voters. Democrats accounted for 74.1% of the overall registration change compared to just 3.6% for Republicans. More than five times as many people registered as Decline to State than registered as Republicans (20.8% vs. 3.6%).”

He then compares this to the registration figures between April 11, 2004 and the close of registration on October 16, 1974, and observes:

“Democrats had an increase of 430,072 new voters, which accounted for 68.2% of the overall registration change. Republicans had an increase of 121,432 new voters, which accounted for 19.3% of the overall registration change in 1974.

“President Nixon resigned (8/9/1974) - yet the Republicans were still 19.3% of the overall increase in voter registration. So far this year, Republicans are only 3.6% of the overall increase -- worse than Watergate.”

Mind you, the surge we are talking about this year is after the Presidential Primary election that saw so many new Democrats and younger Californians registering to vote. And after the latest report has issued from the Secretary of State’s office in May, the Obama campaign has begun a major effort, registering Democrats in California as well as all 50 states—a drive started much earlier than any other one I can remember before a November election.

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In opinion poll after opinion poll, the Republican brand in California is not favored. You can look at the Field polls, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Los Angeles Times polls, and they show this at all levels. On top of this will be an Obama surge, with many polls predicting a blowout in California. Not only do California Democrats have a widening registration advantage of over 10%, polls have shown California Democrats getting votes from “Decline to State” (aka independent) voters at all levels, and these same polls have shown California Democrats to be more satisfied with their nominee for President than Republicans have been with theirs.

Much of this mirrors national trends and is not just based on a lack of appetite for Republicans. Consider these findings from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:

“Barack Obama receives more positive backing than any Democratic candidate in the past two decades; fully three-quarters of his supporters view their vote as being for him, rather than against John McCain. By contrast, on the eve of the 2004 election, just 43% of John Kerry backers were voting for him while 50% were more motivated by disapproval of George W. Bush. At 64%, affirmative support for McCain mirrors Bush's support in 2000.”

California has voted solidly for Democratic candidates for President since 1992. After 8 years of George Bush, California Democrats will be coming out to the polls in droves.

What do California Republicans have to crow about? Tiny Del Norte County has apparently switched back to Republican from a 4,583 to 4,554 Democratic margin that the latest information from the Secretary of State’s office reflects. I say apparently since this county maintains no voter registrar website.

And the news isn’t good for Republicans even when sliced and diced by county as Democrats have a huge advantage in the numbers of counties in California where they lead in registration, including the largest counties, and have recently taken the lead in from Republicans in at least two counties, including the all important Ventura County at play in the hotly contested 19th Senatorial race between Democrat Hanna-Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland.

Frank Russo

Meanwhile, as Mulholland concludes in his note to me: “Reagan had the Reagan Democrats, Obama has the Scott McClellan Republicans (who are registering as Democrats in California) and the new citizens.” His emphasis.

I’ll take that.

By Frank Russo, Publisher, The California Progress Report

Originally published on The California Progress Report. Republishd with permission.

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