It’s cliche to say “every vote counts,” but in Stanislaus County it couldn’t be truer.
As of October 2019, there were 257,583 registered voters in the county; 88,006 of those are registered Republicans, while 96,138 registered as Democrats. Much like America, Stanislaus County is a melting pot of different ideologies, with thousands of those who prefer the Peace and Freedom, Green, Libertarian and American Independent parties sprinkled in between voters on the left and on the right.
In a “purple” county such as ours, voters may choose differently than the rest of the country when it comes to who will occupy the Oval Office, and Congressional races tend to be nail biters where votes are counted and then counted again. It’s nearly impossible to predict who will receive the most votes in Stanislaus County — and the data throughout the years shows it.
Take freshman Democratic Congressman Josh Harder, for example, who flipped California’s 10th Congressional District — which includes all of Stanislaus County — from red to blue in 2018 when he defeated Republican Jeff Denham. Every vote truly counted in that race, and it took a week for enough votes to be counted to declare Harder the outright winner.
Denham, a Republican, had held the Congressional seat since 2012. Prior to redistricting in 2011, Stanislaus County was a part of the 18th Congressional District and represented by Democrat Dennis Cardoza from 2003 to 2012.
The back-and-forth from Democrat to Republican and back to Democrat again when it comes to the preference of Stanislaus County voters accurately represents the region, said Dr. Lawrence Giventer, an expert and professor of Political Science at Stanislaus State.
“Contrary to some popular opinion, California is not split politically north to south; it’s split politically east to west. All of the counties that border the Pacific overwhelm the inland counties, both in population and in political registration,” Giventer said. “Inland California has traditionally been more politically conservative, so Stanislaus County is a fairly ‘middle of the road’ representation of the state.”
For example, look at both the state and federal leaders that Stanislaus County voters have thrown their support behind throughout the years. They overwhelmingly chose Republican President George Bush in 2004 with 58 percent of the vote, compared to Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s 40 percent. Then, in 2008, the county went blue when nearly 50 percent of voters chose President Barack Obama, but Republican Sen. John McCain was close behind with 48 percent of the vote.
Stanislaus County agreed with the rest of the country in 2012 when voters chose Obama again, but in 2016 they strayed from popular opinion when they gave nearly 47 percent of the vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump’s 45 percent.
It’s also worth noting that those three consecutive elections where a Democratic presidential candidate was selected by the county, voters chose a Republican for Congress with the election of Denham. Also, voters in the county have chosen a Democrat governor just once since 2004, while supporting three Republican governors. Facts like these go to show that parties don’t necessarily determine votes in the Central Valley, Giventer said.
“My impression of voters in inland California is that they don’t vote by party lines, necessarily...I don’t think parties are definitive forecast of voting here,” he said. “A lot of it depends on current events, and I think people vote their immediate concerns, whether it be the economy, healthcare, their view of law enforcement or whatever more immediate events and circumstances arise.”
Even when looking at voter registration numbers and previous outcomes of elections in Stanislaus County, it can be difficult to predict the area’s outcome of the upcoming election in November for both California’s 10th Congressional District and the President of the United States. Same-day voter registration in California could skew the numbers, Giventer pointed out, meaning that the party who encourages the most people to get out and vote could have an advantage — as they often do in a county so split.
“A lot of this is going to depend on last-minute registration and voter turnout,” Giventer said. “That stuff is hard. You can’t forecast that stuff...Your crystal ball can’t even forecast that.”