The aftermath of an election is a time to reflect and assess. It’s also a time to look ahead. After all, the 2016 presidential election is only 732 days away.
That fact came courtesy of political analyst David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.
“Not that I’m counting,” he said.
To make sense of what happened at the polls in the Bay Area on Nov. 4, McCuan is a good person to talk to. One of the things he, and almost everyone else, is still talking about is Berkeley’s overwhelming approval of the first soda tax in the United States.
Although opponents dismissed Berkeley as “low-hanging fruit” in terms of Measure D and a place “that doesn’t look like mainstream America,” McCuan anticipated a “tremendous spillover effect” around the country.
Otherwise, he asked, why would the American Beverage Association have spent so much money trying to defeat the soda tax? It totaled more than $11 million in Berkeley and San Francisco, where a similar measure won more than 50 percent support but failed to get the needed two-thirds majority.
The rebuff of Big Soda in Berkeley paralleled a repudiation of Big Oil in Richmond, where a mayoral candidate and three City Council candidates, all backed heavily by Chevron, managed to lose.
Those races, McCuan said, hold important lessons for other issues, such as fracking, marijuana legalization and the right-to-die movement.
“The conventional wisdom is that the best money in politics is spent on the ‘no’ side against measures, against issues,” he said. “And yet if you spend too much money, you actually engender a kind of backlash effect, where voters begin to move to the other side.”
However, he noted that the electorates in Berkeley, Richmond and San Francisco were unusual — more diverse and reflective of the population as a whole — compared with what is normally seen in midterm elections, which tend to draw voters who are whiter, more affluent and more suburban, McCuan said.
Changing demographics at the state and local level might also be contributing to another trend: Female candidates all around California did well, winning seats on school boards, city councils, supervisorial boards and on up.
“We are seeing a shift. Not only women but women of color,” McCuan said. “It’s something to pay attention to moving forward. And we’re going to see some changes by the GOP statewide to make Republicans more relevant to women — especially in Central and Southern California. That’s where their farm team is. Ashley Swearingen wasn’t successful (in her race for state controller), but we’ll see more people like her.”
The fiscal measures widely approved throughout the Bay Area continue a pattern that goes back at least a decade, said McCuan, who sees it as an indirect effect of the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, which decreased property taxes for many.
“As a result, lots of other mechanisms have been created to raise revenue. In general, for the last several cycles, voters have been predisposed to approving them,” said McCuan, who mentioned by way of example that 77 percent of all school bond measures were passed statewide in June, which is incredibly high for a primary off-year election.
The Bay Area often seems like a different country, compared with the rest of the United States. I asked McCuan if the election results Tuesday reinforced that feeling of apartness.
“It’s always been an island of deep, deep blue, regardless of how red the sea around it has changed,” McCuan said. “But there’s also a Jekyll-and-Hyde sense of the voters. They want government to work, so they will vote for many things they believe improve their quality of life. On the other hand, they express incredible frustration, in survey after survey, with how government is run and how things happen at City Hall.”
Among the biggest election surprises, McCuan said, was incumbent Tom Torlakson’s victory over Marshall Tuck as state school superintendent. “If this election were held a month ago, he would have lost,” he said. “The California Teachers Association delivered him. He ran a lackluster campaign.”
Actually, he said, labor didn’t do badly in the Bay Area. “They’re always hit over the head as being dead, but they’re not dead,” he said. “They’re effective at delivering the vote.”
Another surprise, he said, was the inability of technology to report election results. McCuan blamed the leadership of Secretary of State Debra Bowen and hopes that her successor, Alex Padilla, will do better.
“This was a relatively benign, low-information election,” he said. “Imagine if we had more things going on. There’s a much better way to do this than what we’ve seen.”
On Wednesday morning, KQED’S Forum took a look at the winners and losers in California and Bay Area elections. One of the most startling outcomes was Libby Schaaf’s emergence as the next mayor of Oakland.
“A pretty remarkable loss, frankly, for Jean Quan,” said Corey Cook, associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and director of its Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good.
He described the current mayor’s third-place finish as a “stark rejection” of her reign in Oakland. He said Dan Siegel, her former adviser, cut into her progressive base and Rebecca Kaplan eroded her support among women, who had provided strong backing in 2010. Schaaf, meanwhile, garnered the votes of people living near Interstate 580 and in the Oakland hills.
“It’s a resounding victory” for Schaaf, said Cook, who added that she was barely registering in the polls even a month ago. He had viewed Gov. Jerry Brown’s endorsement a month before the election as too late, but he realized he was wrong: With so many undecideds, it was exactly the right timing, and it gave her momentum.
On Wednesday night, KQED Public Radio did a half-hour special election broadcast, hosted by Mina Kim. At the end of the show, the guests were asked for their biggest takeaways from the election.
“The more that politicians feel compelled to play to the die-hard voters on either end of the political spectrum, the more they alienate everyone else,” said Rachael Myrow, a reporter with KQED’s Silicon Valley Desk. “And with turnout dropping everywhere to levels 30 percent or below, it’s frightening.”
KQED News Fix blogger Dan Brekke said, “The outcome of these corporate spending sprees in Richmond and Berkeley was surprising, and we’re going to see this tested again when the plastic bag industry tries to pass a statewide referendum to overturn the plastic bag ban.”
Cy Musiker of KQED was most struck by the fact that ranked-choice voting had worked, even though “it may have been confusing when (people) filled out their ballots.”
And Marisa Lagos, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, said, “The national wave of independent groups flooding campaigns with money is here and here to stay, locally.”