Survey: Orange County Becoming More Progressive

(CN) – The social and political viewpoints of residents of Orange County, historically southern California’s base of conservative politics, have recently shifted to more progressive positions including support for gun control and rent control, according to details of a survey released Thursday.

By large percentages, adult residents in Orange County support stronger regulations for firearms, policies that protect the environment, and a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including support for DACA. Respondents of the survey also said the growing gap between rich and poor residents is a serious concern.

Nearly two-thirds disapprove of the job the president is doing, as 95 percent of registered Democrats disapproved while 75 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s job performance.

Residents are distrustful of Washington, favoring smaller government, but also see government action as a legitimate way to solve problems.

Dr. Fred Smoller and Dr. Michael Moodian, researchers at Chapman University who designed the survey, shared details at a day-long conference on California’s housing crisis and its relation to the county’s struggle with homelessness.

“It always seemed like Orange County was behind the curve,” Smoller said. “I wish someday we can be the model for California and the nation in terms of progress and development.”

“Orange County was once considered a red county,” Moodian said. “We found a county that’s changing dramatically.”

706 residents 18 years of age or older were interviewed between Feb. 6 and March 4.

Between that period, the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took place in Parkland, Florida. A vast majority of residents, 71 percent, said they were in favor of stricter gun control laws.

Staggering crises in the county reflect the problems affecting the entire state. The average price of buying a home in California is now two-and-a-half times the national average. Rents are at historic highs and the state’s home-ownership rate is the lowest it’s been since the Second World War.

The rate of evictions has risen steadily while in almost every major city of the state, homelessness has become more and more visible.

“I often say [the county doesn’t] have a homelessness problem, we have a governance problem,” Smoller said, noting that U.S District Judge David Carter has had to step in to broker agreements between the county and cities in order to arrange appropriate housing for the homeless.

Housing affordability and homelessness are the two major issues on residents’ minds, according to the survey, which researchers said made sense considering the county’s soaring housing costs and gaps in availability of affordable housing stock.

Forty-seven percent of renters in the county have considered moving due to the high costs of housing.

The majority of people in Orange County, 83 percent, said that home prices are too high, yet a majority also responded that they don’t want more affordable housing built in their neighborhoods, according to the survey.

Half of residents said they didn’t think their children could afford a home in Orange County.

“The home ownership dream is not dead, but likely deferred,” Smoller said.

On the issue of rent control, which has stirred political debate in California’s gubernatorial race, 54 percent of homeowners and 65 percent of renters said they are in support of measures to put caps on how much rent can go up each year.

County leadership has been in the hot seat in recent months as it struggles to design and implement a countywide plan to house the thousands of homeless people.

“[The survey] shows us [county residents] support helping the poor and homeless,” Moodian said.

Interestingly to the researchers, the majority of residents, 63 percent, supported taxing themselves to address the housing and homelessness crisis, a result which surprised Moodian and Smoller.

“The problem is that no wants shelters or affordable housing in their area,” Moodian said.

Support for a hypothetical quarter-cent sales tax to address homelessness would be similar to a measure passed by Los Angeles County voters called Measure H.

Researchers said the survey also revealed the “failure of markets, governments and communities to address the crisis.” They said it exposed “structural problems” with mechanisms for planning, taxation, environmental regulation and governance.

The shift towards progressive politics is evident from the survey but has yet to translate to changes in policy in cities around the county.

On Wednesday, Huntington Beach filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court challenging California’s “sanctuary state” law that provides protections for immigrants. They join the cities of Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley, along with the County Board of Supervisors, in a wave of opposition to Senate Bill 54, which restricts certain collaboration between state and local police agencies with federal immigration officials when immigrants are in their custody.

Smoller said elected officials need to represent everyone living in their city or county, not just their “base” of supporters.

“I would say there is lag in public opinion being reflected in the political attitudes of elected representatives,” he said.

Smoller said the survey results demonstrate the need for politicians to understand that people showing up in large numbers to protest don’t always represent public opinion.

In March, at least 20 charter buses arrived at the Board of Supervisors meeting to protest the proposal to construct temporary housing in the cities of Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Costa Mesa. Protestors concerned with the safety and sanitation implications of such a plan chanted angrily and held signs saying, “No Tent Cities.”

Ninety-one percent of residents said homelessness is serious problem for the county.

“The implications for this is that there will be the real possibility of very competitive congressional elections in November, possibly contributing to a blue wave,” Smoller said.


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