This is part 1 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 48th Congressional District in California.
CA-48: Treacherous Grounds. This district sees Democrat Harley Rouda squaring off against incumbent (and Russiophile) Dana Rohrabacher). The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around healthcare and taxation, but Democratic strategists need to be more prudent on gun regulation, immigration, and offshore-drilling.
A lot has been written about this Orange County District – diverse, with sizable Hispanic and Asian populations, and cross-pressured. While the district voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election with a close 1.7 percentage point margin, its residents simultaneously confirmed Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in office with almost 60%. Rohrabacher has been in office since 2012, winning every election comfortably with about 60% of the popular vote each.
This is not surprising; CA-48 is a relatively wealthy Orange County District, centered on Huntington Beach. It includes Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Midway City, parts of Westminster, Fountain Valley, parts of Garden Grove, parts of Santa Ana, parts of San Juan Capistrano, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, parts of Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, parts of Irvine, and parts of Laguna Niguel, with a median household income of $76,077. This is less wealthy than Districts 33 (Beverly Hills, Malibu), 18 (Silicon Valley), and 12 (parts of San Francisco), but wealthy nonetheless.
Still, Rohrabacher’s reelection is far from certain: The Cook Political Report currently categorizes this district as “Republican toss-up”, and PredictWise estimates that Rohrabacher is on track to receive only 45% of the vote as of now (while we register a high number of undecided voters). The progressive movement has identified CA-48 as one of potentially flappable congressional districts. It receives ample attention from Flip14, a Democratic super PAC aiming to flip all Republican districts in California that voted for Clinton over Trump, as well as Crooked Media’s initiative The Crooked Eight, that has identified CA-48 as one of eight most flippable districts in California. Democrat Harley Rouda has emerged as the challenger to Dana Rohrabacher in the November 6th General Election. And, Rouda is currently on the coveted DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) Red-to-Blue list that identifies Democratic candidates who are key to taking back the House. Plus, Rohrabacher's ties to Russia, coupled with a Niebelungentreue of sorts to President Trump, will certainly give Democrats a motivational edge come election day November 6, 2018.
The political compass of CA-48, how Californians residing in this district think about the major policies debated in today’s political climate, has received far less attention. What does the political mindscape of these voters look like, of communities in that vital Orange County District? We have built the tool to answer these questions: The Insights Engine tracks more than 500,000 geographic/demographic segmentations of Americans on 160+ political/economic/values-dimensions. The good news up front: There is some hunger for progressive economic policies, to be clear. Take healthcare, for instance. 79% of voters in CA-49 support the idea of Medicare buy-in. And, that number does not vary by party, with 79% of Republicans in support, and 79% of Democrats in support.
The numbers look similar for taxation. A majority of voters in California’s 48th district – 53% – support increasing taxes on households with incomes over $250,000. While there is some partisan difference – we still register a majority of Republicans (49% indicate raise taxes as opposed to 33% who are in favor of lowering taxes) in favor of tax increases, as well as 61% of Democrats.
On the hot button issues of immigration and gun regulation, the district looks more conservative. Moving to immigration, it is true that voters in this Orange County District have a lot of compassion for Dreamers – 54% of voters (60% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans) support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants illegally brought to the US as children and have no crime record.
On the other hand, only a minority – 44% of voters in the 48th Congressional district in California, think recent immigrants strengthen the US when it comes to the job market. And, that number dips to 34% among Republicans in that district.
On the question whether legal immigrants are a concern from the vantage point of national security, the pendulum has swung in the conservative direction in recent months. While only 45% of Californians in that district inhibited the belief that recent legal immigrants have burdened the country when it comes to national security, that number increased to 51% in May. And while the increase was particularly pronounced among Republicans (54 in February, 62% in May), Democrats have also shifted toward this view over time.
On guns, the conceal and carry remains popular in this district. 53% of voters in CA-48 believe that the right to carry a concealed weapon should be protected – and that includes a decent number of Democrats (35%). And, very few voters in this Orange County District are undecided on this issue.
Of course, there is some district-specific issues as well. A central issue in this coastal district for example is offshore drilling. President Trump announced plans to expand offshore drilling capacities in US coastal states (with the exception of Florida), with possible ramifications for the 48th Congressional District in California. According to a spokesperson for Rohrabacher, the Republican Congressman is supportive of President Trump’s proposal to expand offshore drilling, and this is widely believed to be a very unpopular position that might make Rohrabacher vulnerable. However, our data shows that Rohrabacher’s position is not as unpopular among voters in this Orange County District as commonly assumed: A majority (53% of voters) favor new oil and gas exploration, and while that number drops to 39% among Democrats, a whooping 63% of Republicans are in support.
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially around economic policies. But, immigration and gun regulation look more difficult in this district with a large share of Hispanics. And, making offshore drilling a front-and-center issue would be ill-advised for the Democratic challenger Harley Rouda.