Bernie Sanders May Not Have Won California, But He Made the State Bluer

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A crowd gathers to watch as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in Oakland, California on May 30, 2016.
And California Republicans are feeling the blues as well. Photo: JOSH EDELSON/This content is subject to copyright.

One of the imponderables about the California Democratic presidential primary before June 7 was the large number of new registrations — especially among young people, Latinos, and Democrats — on the state’s voting rolls. They didn’t win the state for Bernie Sanders, but they’re not going anywhere:

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The real legacy of their frenzied campaign in the California may have been in a surge of newly registered voters — more than 650,000 since May alone, and five times as many Democrats as Republicans. Many of them were first-time voters, awakened by the excitement of the Sanders campaign, and by Trump’s alienating rhetoric.  

Make no mistake, the Golden State electorate is getting bluer, aside from the pro-Democratic tilt that always occurs when primary season ends and the general election begins. 

This skyrocketing registration can be broken out by partisanship, ethnicity and age, and shows some striking differences by group.  In a traditional election year, a 65% growth from the same period of last year would be remarkable.  But this year we are seeing a doubling of registration growth among Latinos, and a more than 150% increase for some young voters, and a near-tripling for Democrats.

It’s really hard to remember that California was in living memory a swing state that voted Republican more often than Democratic in both presidential and other statewide elections. Now the emblematic event is this year’s open U.S. Senate race, where no Republican qualified for the general election via the state’s Top Two system. Republicans have not won a Senate election in California since 1992, or a presidential election since 1988. Former senator and governor Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant initiatives are usually given the blame for the state’s Democratic tilt, and whether or not that’s true, Donald Trump’s unsavory reputation among Latinos and Asian-Americans threatens to move California even further into the donkey column.

How Bernie Sanders Made California Bluer