Contra Costa's two-decade transformation from conservative suburb to Democratic stronghold appears unstoppable.
"This isn't Bill Baker's Contra Costa County anymore; this is George Miller's Contra Costa County," said East Bay pollster Alex Evans, referring to the former GOP congressman from Danville, who lost his 1996 re-election bid after two terms, and 38-year Democratic Rep. George Miller, of Martinez.
As evidence, Evans points to results of the Contra Costa Poll, a telephone survey his firm conducted of 600 county residents who voted in the Nov. 6 general election.
Contra Costans voted, for example, more liberal than statewide results in nearly all 11 California ballot propositions.
Six out of 10 supported Proposition 30, the tax hike for education, compared with 54 percent statewide. And a majority of Contra Costa voters supported overturning the death penalty, while the state as a whole opted to keep it.
Even more striking, Evans said, the survey revealed more support in Lamorinda for Prop. 30 and its tax increases than the traditionally blue West Contra Costa County.
"Contra Costa is no longer the last suburban bastion for Republicans," Evans said. "It's even considered hostile to Republicans, who find it impossible to get elected to a partisan office and even some nonpartisan ones."
Party registration and election trends bears out Evans' observations. Contra Costa Republicans have lost significant ground here
A dozen years ago, Republicans outnumbered Democrats in seven Contra Costa cities, including Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda.
One by one, the numbers began tipping into the Democrats' column as voters increasingly abandoned parties in favor of "decline to state" and "no party preference."
Republicans outnumber Democrats in only two cities today: Danville Republicans enjoy a comfortable 10 percentage point registration lead, while Clayton appears poised to become the next city to go Democratic. The GOP held a slim 19-person advantage in the small Central Contra Costa town as of Nov. 6, a significant decline from its nearly 9 percentage point lead a dozen years ago.
"What's happening in Clayton is the same thing that is happening all over the country," said "no party preference" Clayton Councilwoman Julie Pierce, re-elected this month and the only non-Republican on the council. "It has become much more polarized."
The shift surprised and worried Clayton Councilman Howard Geller, a self-professed staunch Republican who was also re-elected.
"I went to three or four parties during the campaign season, and there wasn't a Democrat in the house, so I'm not sure I understand why this is happening," Geller said. "But I'm just sick that our state has gone that way. When you have more people with their hands out than you have people who (are) working hard to make the money to give away, then we're all in trouble."
A coalition of Tesoro, Phillips 66 and Shell oil refineries commissioned the roughly $25,000 poll as a community service, said spokesman and political consultant Eric Zell. The survey contained no industry-specific questions, and all results have been made public.
Evans' company, Oakland-based EMC Research, surveyed by telephone 600 Contra Costa vote-by-mail and early voters between Nov. 4-7. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
"Our hope is to make the Contra Costa Poll an ongoing effort, perhaps conduct surveys twice a year where we track issues of importance to residents and elected leaders," Zell said.
Among other Contra Costa Poll results:
Tesoro, Shell and Phillips 66 refineries commissioned an exit poll during the Nov. 6 general election, the second in the coalition's new Contra Costa Poll series. Here's a sample of what the 600 Contra Costa voters surveyed had to say:
President -- Six-and-a-half out of 10 voters embraced Democratic President Barack Obama, who received 59 percent of the vote statewide.
Prop. 30, income and sales tax hike for education -- Six out 10 said they voted yes, a full 6 percentage points higher than the statewide result. Interestingly, it doesn't match up with a different question, where seven out of 10 local voters said they would pay more taxes to improve education.
Prop. 34, death penalty -- If left to Contra Costans, the death penalty would have been repealed. Statewide, the measure lost.
Taxes -- Seven out of 10 support reforms so the wealthy pay their "fair share" of taxes. Two out of 10 would vote no on any tax increase no matter its purpose.
Source: Contra Costa Poll