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Is California the Future?
Daniel Cox,

When Governor Jerry Brown stated that “California is the future,” it was a call to arms, a rallying cry to political progressives and Democrats shocked by President Donald Trump’s improbable election victory. Gov. Brown has struck a defiant tone and promised to deploy California’s considerable resources to resist the Trump administration’s policies. In a recent speech, Brown talked up California’s clout: “We have a lot of firepower! We’ve got the scientists. We’ve got the universities. We have the national labs. We have a lot of political clout and sophistication for the battle. And we will persevere!”

Why California is Important

California does wield significant political, intellectual, and economic power. The state boasts $2.5 trillion in gross economic output, making it the sixth largest economy in the world. It also serves as the backbone of the Democratic Party: One in five Democratic House members hail from the Golden State, including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. California also has some of the best opportunities for Democrats to pick up House seats in 2018. As many as seven California Republican House members are potentially vulnerable representing districts that went for Clinton in 2016. The Golden State is one of the few state’s where Clinton outperformed Obama in 2012, increasing the Democratic margin at the presidential level (61.5 percent vs. 59.3 percent).

Californians also express views on immigration and other issues that are substantially different than residents of the other 49 states. While a majority (57 percent) of Americans living outside California believe that the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence only about four in ten (42 percent) Californians agree. Most (55 percent) Californians believe that immigrants strengthen the U.S. because of their hard work and talents. Outside of California, the public is more divided—fewer than half (46 percent) of Americans in the other 49 states believe that immigrants are an asset to the country.

But California’s claim to represent America’s future is also about demographics. The religious, racial, and ethnic profile of the state closely resembles this country’s youngest generation.

A Preview of the American Religious Landscape?

California’s religious make-up seems to be one step ahead of the nation’s overall. It was only a few years ago that white Christians made up the majority of American public. Today, white Christians account for 43 percent of all U.S. adults. In California, fewer than one-quarter (24 percent) are white Christian. Nationally, white Christians make up a similar number of young adults (age 18 to 29)—only 25 percent are white Christian.

Close to three in ten (28 percent) Californians are religiously unaffiliated—a group that strongly supported Clinton over Trump in the election. Nationally, roughly four in ten (38 percent) young adults are religiously unaffiliated, compared to only 12 percent of seniors (age 65 and over) in the U.S.

Finally, more than one-third (37 percent) of Californians are non-white Christians, including those who are Hispanic Catholic (19 percent), Hispanic Protestant (8 percent), and black Protestant (5 percent). Again, this profile is more similar to young adults across the country, among whom 28 percent are non-white Christian, than seniors among whom only 17 percent are non-white Christians.


For more, read the PRRI/Brookings 2016 Immigration Survey and see PRRI’s American Values Atlas.