March 6, 2024 - 8:20pm

Elections in California used to be like brilliant set-piece battles, with two powerful, well-financed parties warring across the Golden State. Today, results tend to be as predictable as elections to the old Supreme Soviet — and about as closely followed by the voters. More and more Californians simply tune out and don’t even bother to mail in their ballots: the big question is whether the turnout will reach a record low.

One might think that Californians would want regime change. After all, the state suffers from a $73 billion deficit, an unemployment rate among the nation’s highest, the highest percentage of residents living in poverty, a failed education system, and mounting business flight. That’s not to mention its massive net outmigration, with a net total of 1.7 million people from domestic migration between 2016 and 2022. Overall the state has 30% of the nation’s homeless population, and is currently witnessing its highest crime rate in a decade.

In what passed for a “headline” race to succeed Dianne Feinstein in the Senate, Democrat Adam Schiff — the Russiagate fabulist and the only pro-Israel candidate in the race — won his primary. The second-placed finish by 75-year-old former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Garvey may seem impressive to some, but his percentage was in the high 30s, entirely normal for GOP state-wide candidates. He might not even have made the run-off if Schiff, no stranger to dirty tricks, hadn’t helped finance his predictably cash-short and tepid campaign.

Two more progressive party-liners, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, did poorly. Their attempts to rally a perceived groundswell of pro-Palestine sentiment apparently failed to energise voters in an extremely low-turnout election. One promising sign may also be the surprisingly close race on Proposition One, the latest Gavin Newsom move to deal with the state’s homeless and mental health crisis. Perhaps the history of failures to address this issue and the looming deficit is turning voters away from acting like political lemmings.

Where California elections matter is what happens within the Democratic majority. In this respect, Schiff’s win reflects a more useful trend. San Francisco, battered and humiliated by its awful social disorder, has moved back towards rationality, endorsing proposals to boost police surveillance and requiring drug testing for welfare recipients by surprisingly wide margins.

A similar trend may be emerging in Los Angeles. The state’s dominant urban centre remains firmly Democratic, but unease over crime threatens the career of DA George Gascón. In a race featuring nearly a dozen candidates, Gascón came in first but with less than a quarter of the vote. His leading challenger will be Nathan Hochman, a former federal prosecutor who once ran as a Republican. Although now an independent, Hochman can expect the Democratic machine, financed by rich progressives and public employees, to use the GOP label as something close to erstwhile membership of the Nazi Party.

Essentially, California can be seen as almost post-political. There may be a few minor shifts in some marginal districts, but even Republican strategists admit there is little hope of anything better than perhaps a slight accretion. In the past GOP candidates did well in low-voter-turnout elections, but that is increasingly no longer the case. For one thing, many typical Republican voters have departed to friendlier climes and years of massive defeat are not exactly swelling the ranks.

As a result, nothing really threatens the one-party state, where politics only attracts the self-interested and the ideologically charged. Rather than focus on state-wide races, the real contest will be in local contests, where the extreme wing of the Democratic Party seems to be losing its edge. Faced with the state’s current decline, distracted middle- and working-class Californians could begin to more broadly oppose the delusional progressive wing.

Yet it’s too early to declare more than a modest victory for common sense. Progressives understand that what they need to do is focus on internal party politics. And with the opportunistic Newsom scheduled to leave office in 2026, his successor will come from further to the ideological Left — most likely Attorney General Rob Bonta, a longtime backer of a wealth tax, and a particular devotee of a particular kind of “criminal justice reform”.

To change course, California needs to both become at least a marginally two-party state and for the Democratic Party to shift further to the centre. Yet the well-organised Left-wingers, gender campaigners and climate fanatics rarely relent. The Leftist fringe may have reached its peak but, so long as Californians snooze through elections, it’s questionable whether its stranglehold on the state can be broken.

Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)