This is part 2 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 39th Congressional District in California.
CA-39: Traditional on social values, progressive on taxation and guns, shifting on immigration. After incumbent Ed Royce decided not to run for re-election, this district sees Democrat Gil Cisneros squaring off against former Ed Royce staffer Young Kim. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around healthcare and taxation, but Democratic strategists need to be more prudent on framing given the district’s conservative values.
This district includes parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties, and encompasses Fullerton, La Habra, La Habra Heights, Brea, Buena Park, Anaheim Hills, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Diamond Bar, Chino Hills, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. CA-39 has been under constant media spotlight. After a grueling Primary battle, that had Democratic strategists worried until the last second (in California’s Open Primary system, Democratic strategists feared that the crowded Democratic field could send two Republicans to the general election on November 6th), Gil Cisneros, the DCCC-endorsed lottery-winning Millionaire, emerged ahead of Democrat Andy Thorburn. But it was not easy to get there: in a high-spending battle, the DCCC invested more than $2 Million to ensure that Cisneros made the cut, and both contenders got bruised. Or as Politico put it, “The pair of quarreling millionaires had been hammering each other with negative ads […].“
On the Republican side, the somewhat unexpected retirement of incumbent Ed Royce immediately put this district into play: Thee Cook Political Report currently categorizes this district as “Republican toss-up”, and PredictWise estimates that Kim is on track to receive a minority of the vote — 47% — as of now (while we register a high number of undecided voters). It is hence not surprising that the progressive movement has identified this as one of potentially flippable congressional districts although electorally this district has been solidly Republican, with about or above 60% of the vote share going to Ed Royce since 2012. Flip14, a Democratic super PAC aiming to flip all Republican districts in California that voted for Clinton over Trump, focuses on flipping CA-39 as well as Crooked Media’s initiative The Crooked Eight, identifying CA-39 as one of eight most flippable districts in California. And, Cisneros 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 in 2018.
Conservative on Social Values; Race
Similar to the coastal 48th Congressional District, this district likewise has a high proportion of minorities – with only 34% of the population registering as White, 29% of the population registering as Asian, and 33% of the population registering as Hispanic. But, sizable Hispanic and Asian populations mean that this district is relatively traditional on values. The ethnic enclaves of Orange County stretching to this district are founded on religious and cultural mores centered on strong family values. For example, Orange County has the lowest percentage of single-parent households in Southern California, and boasts the lowest percentage of households occupied by opposite-sex unmarried couples.
And, these values manifest more concretely in the Insights Engine (the PredictWise dashboard tracking more than 500,000 geographic/demographic segmentations of Americans on 160+ political/economic/values-dimensions.). For example, a strong majority of residents in this district agree that “things were better 50 years ago” – with very little partisan breakdown, a major departure from PredictWise national numbers. On the PredictWise traditionalism score, collapsing six measures of traditionalism into a single metric, CA-39 scores at 55, a good 5 points higher than the rest of California ( The score can be interpreted as a natural scale anchored at 0 – strong distaste for traditionalism-, and 100 – strong preferences for traditionalism -, with 50 interpretable as an ideal median – exactly in between supporting and opposing traditionalism). Another example of these conservative values in CA-39? 37% of residents in this wealthy district have identified premarital sex as the culprit for the country’s problems.
This conservatism also becomes manifest in authoritarian attitudes. For example, close to 60% of voters in this California district agree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking. And, preferences for an all-powerful executive are widespread. 63% believe that the President should be able to sue the press if he believes them to be intentionally untruthful to hurt his reputation. This authoritarianism is not limited to Republicans, with a majority of Democrats (50%) in support as well.
This conservatism further manifests on race: 58% of citizens here disapprove of black athletes boycotting the national anthem as a proper means of bringing awareness to injustices against minorities in the US (admittedly a strong anchor). Here, partisan differences are more pronounced, with only 39% of Democrats but 73% of Republicans disapproving.
In the abstract, believe in autonomy and individualism, core tenants of libertarian market ideology, are strong, with citizens in this Orange County District showing a clear disdain for government “hand-outs”. When asked whether people facing adversity should stop looking for hand-outs and work their way out of it, 40% of all voters agree, with a sizable majority of Republicans (58%).
Progressive on Healthcare; Taxation; Assault Weapons; Regulation
When it comes to political issues, the picture looks more mixed. The good news up front: There is some hunger for progressive healthcare policies. For instance, 77% of voters in CA-49 support the idea of universal healthcare – with clear majorities of Republicans (66%) and Democrats (90%) in support.
This progressivism does result in support for some of the policy components of The Affordable Care Act. Take Medicare: The ACA has significantly strengthened the program by reducing out-of-pocket expenses for patients, and this is something residents in CA-39 would agree with: 76% of all voters (and still 70% of Republicans) believe that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure healthcare insurance coverage of citizens over 65 years of age.
As is true for many other districts, there is likewise hunger for a more progressive (read: liberal) taxation system. When asked whether the government should lower taxes on households with income over $250,000 and cut government services, or raise taxes to provide more, 52% of voters in this district believe that the government should raise taxes. And, there is not much partisan difference, or at least less than one might think, with 49% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats sharing this belief.
Another such example of demands for progressive policies covers regulation. Attitudes are especially progressive regarding government regulation of food and drug safety and efficacy. 66% of all voters (57% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats) believe that these regulations are necessary to protect the public interest.
Finally, constituents in CA-39 hold progressive views on some aspects of gun regulation, particularly on background checks and assault weapons. A whooping 66% of all voters – two thirds – support restricting the right to buy assault weapons, with 81% of Democrats and a clear majority of Republicans (57%) in support.
Conservative on Military; Immigration
The Progressive Pendulum looks very different on immigration. A clear majority of voters in this California district believe that recent legal immigrants burden the country (52%), with only 36% of Democrats but 68% of Republicans sharing this belief. In short, we see a stark partisan split on immigration, and people move toward the anti-immigrant pole quickly on this issue. While in February, only 46% believed recent immigrants burden the country, we have witnessed a 6 percentage point swing since (52% in May). And, the swing is especially pronounced among Republicans (60% in February, 68% in May).
Finally, voters in this CA-39 districts also harbor conservative beliefs when it comes to the military. When asked about the role and scope of the US military in protecting US territory, 75% of all voters in CA-39 believe the military should be expanded, with extremely robust majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (85%) in support.
CA-39; target healthcare, taxation, regulation through value frames
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially around economic policies. But, this is also a very conservative district, with traditional and authoritarian values. This has clear repercussions for our recommendation to Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros: Run on issues at the core of the current progressive movement (especially expanding healthcare and progressive taxation), but embed these messages in traditional, family-oriented frames!