Almost every day I drive home to Simi Valley from my work in Los Angeles, and it’s as though I’m stepping into a different world. It’s a world rife with “Blue Lives Matter” stickers on an inordinate amount of pickup trucks, a world in which Mexican restaurants air Fox News and serve bean dip for their majority white clientele who are proud to live in a city with a library dedicated to Ronald Reagan.
It is also a world in which a progressive Latina congresswoman is lambasted for making a video criticizing Trump’s immigration policies and informing immigrants of their rights.
This oasis of red politics exists right next to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, but it is indeed on another planet ideologically. We saw this change somewhat with the election of Katie Hill in 2018 to a congressional seat including traditionally conservative Simi and Santa Clarita, but now that Hill’s gone, Republicans are fighting their hearts out to win that seat back.
This battle in Simi Valley is simply one example of how the Republican party is trying to fight the demographic shift in the U.S.
Simi Valley mirrors the rest of the U.S. in many ways. Since 2000, its suburban population has grown, and achieved a higher level of diversity, according to census data. It’s even seeing a rise in the number of older Americans in lockstep with the rest of the nation, due to the aging of baby boomers.
Accompanying this trend is the greater share of Latinos and other ethnicities in the population, and in suburban areas as well (Simi Valley’s Latino share of the population grew about 8 percent while the white-alone population decrease by 8 percent according to census data). Not to mention the increased need for housing in shelter-starved California, which is likely to increase the population and thus bring more diversity.
Baby boomers tend to lean more conservative than their younger counterparts, a fact unsurprising to demographers, who understand that older populations typically tend to lean more conservative.
This is due in large part to their fixed incomes, which makes them much more sensitive to tax increases. There are also other reasons that are unflattering to the gray-haired (or balding) crowd: it might be personality, a slowdown in judgment ability, and a yearning for familiarity.
If we’re lucky, we will all get to the point at which we’re complaining about kids and their flying cars. But couple this natural conservatism with an influx of people who look different than them and vote differently, there will be growing pains, growing pains that helped get Trump elected.
Places like Simi Valley also display the richness of California’s political landscape, a place that outsiders often mischaracterize as full of the Hollywood elite and hipster liberals. Yet the state is a bastion of political and ethnic diversity. After all, Reagan and Nixon were both from California. There are rural areas, such as the Central Valley and Bakersfield, that are bathed in red, while more suburban and even urban areas like Orange County awash in Republican red.
Orange County went Democrat for the first time in 2018, however, as every congressional seat became filled by Democrats.
The GOP is terrified of this, and even blames their losses on “ballot harvesting,” which is a legal practice that involves volunteers collecting and turning in absentee or vote-by-mail ballots. This claim is of dubious merit, as there is no evidence demonstrating that this is why Democrats won.
A claim not of dubious merit is the GOP’s purging of voters across the nation, in states such as Georgia and Wisconsin. There is also their brilliant gerrymandering strategy launched after Obama won the election in 2008. Their expert strategists have an understanding that the demographics are not on their side, and they have to limit the amount of potentially blue voters (by legal means or otherwise) in order to win.
This does not mean that the Republican party is dead, however. It may be dying, but it is definitely holding on for dear life.
However, the GOP has been masterful with their appointment of conservative judges, and their rallying of a base that rallies around core issues instead of falling prey to internecine bickering. If Democrats want to wait out boomers, they will have to wait awhile because people are living longer.
There also exists the fact that Generation X is aging and might find a large swath of their cohort turn conservative. The same thing might happen as millennials age, too. Conservatism as an ideology is always going to be attractive, and the Republican party will likely always be a force in American politics.
If they’re able to move past their xenophobia and hardcore flirtations with fascism, they may attract a more diverse array of voters. It would be a waste for them to rely on aging boomers in places like Simi Valley.