Actually, in Orange County, the answer is most likely “sure.”
Despite the county’s recent reputation as a hotbed of voters who flout mask-wearing and other social distancing rules, the 2021 Orange County Annual Survey from Chapman University shows seven out of 10 local voters support a national mask mandate, and similar majorities back other science-friendly views on preventing the spread of COVID-19, including ranking public health over perceived short-term economic gains.
The numbers suggest that high-profile, anti-mask sentiment expressed by some elected officials in Orange County, and a broader push by some supervisors and others to “open the economy” while the pandemic remains a threat, has not found an audience beyond a few pockets of the county.
“Elected officials pay too much attention to noisy people,” said Fred Smoller, an associate professor of political science at Chapman.
While Smoller said the county’s image on mask-wearing and social distancing has been shaped by “public demonstrations and flag waving,” and by “the intensity” of anti-mask proponents, the survey results suggest that’s not true for most Orange County residents.
“Most people in the county back science.”
A similar trend reflects local views about former President Donald Trump and his inaccurate claim that he won the last election.
The survey, released Tuesday, March 1, also shows county residents generally believe (69% to 31%) that the 2020 election was fair and that it was correct to impeach Trump (57% to 43%) a second time following his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.
In fact, on a range of issues, from global warming to electric cars to support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Chapman’s new data shows Orange County either in-step with national numbers or leaning slightly to the left.
Global warming? A strong majority (73%) of Orange County residents believe the issue is either a “serious problem” or a problem for which “some action is required.” Nationally, some 76% of voters described global warming as “a crisis” or a “severe problem,” according to a poll from Quinnipiac University released early last month.
Renewable energy? A majority (58%) favor the state’s law that will require all energy in California to be renewable by 2045, even if that means higher electric bills. Nationally, 60% of voters told Gallup two years ago that they would “strongly favor” or “favor” national policies to achieve similar goals over the next 20 years.
Race relations? A solid majority (65%) of Orange County residents back the Black Lives Matter movement. Nationally, 51% of voters told CNN last year that they had favorable views of Black Lives Matter.
Smoller, who has tracked local political trends since the 1980s, said the survey results are in line with a county that has voted for the past two Democratic candidates for president (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden), and where voting registration data shows Democrats with a small but growing lead over Republicans. (As of Monday, March 1, data from the Orange County Registrar of voters shows Democrats with a 50,186 voter edge – about 2.7 percentage points – over the GOP.)
But Chapman’s data also shows a county that’s still narrowly divided politically. In fact, two of the 16 congressional districts across the country that split tickets in 2020 election – meaning voters chose a congressional representative from a party that was different than one of the presidential candidate they backed – are in Orange County, CA-39 and CA-48. Those seats, one that touches north Orange County as well as San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, and another that includes much of coastal Orange County, are represented by GOP Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel. Voters in both districts chose Biden over Trump in November.
And while the Republicans and Democrats who responded to Chapman’s survey fell in line with national numbers on a variety of issues, a third group, identified in the survey as Decline to State voters, swung the county’s overall results to the left.
At least some of those voters are former Republicans who backed candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain, but who aren’t inclined to support Trump or others who are voted to dismiss the results of the 2020 election and who back policies that recently would have been considered extremist.
“There seem to be more people in the middle in Orange County than there are around the country,” Smoller said. “There are a lot of moderate Republicans here.” Such voters, he added, won’t identify as Democrats – “probably ever” – but “they’re going to push back from the kind of conservatism that’s being offered right now by Trump and others.”
One question in the survey – regarding the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom – drew responses that seem to hew to the county’s current voter registration numbers. Slightly more than half, 52%, are against recalling the Democratic governor, while 48% favor the move.
Smoller suggested that number should not worry Newsom.
“He should be cautious, but it would not keep me up at night,” Smoller said of Newsom’s results in Orange County.
“The county has changed a bit, but it still tends to track more conservative than the rest of the state. If, while we’re still battling the pandemic, it’s about an even split in Orange County, he probably won’t be in trouble statewide if it gets to a ballot.”
The survey tracked responses from 703 people over a 20-day window that ended Feb. 15. It has a 4-point margin of error.
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