Santana: The New OC

Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities

Watching the last month of political pandering from the dais of the Orange County Board of Supervisors around homeless shelters and immigration left me curious about the kind of poll data they are digesting regarding likely local voters this November.

Indeed, one new poll of 700 residents released today by Chapman University, in conjunction with a day-long conference this Thursday at the university about homelessness and housing, raises some interesting questions about whether supervisors are listening to the right people about the future of Orange County. To read the full poll, click here.

In this week’s On OC Podcast, I brought on poll directors, Chapman University Political Science Professors Fred Smoller and Mike Moodian, who have been living with these numbers and crunching implications for months.

They know their numbers well.

According to the Chapman poll, Orange County residents are becoming much more complex politically as well as hyper focused on local quality of life issues.

When asked what is the biggest problem facing Orange County, 27 percent of residents polled pointed to housing affordability, the number one issue for the poll.

Other issues?

Crime and gangs came in at four percent.

Jobs, the economy?

Six percent.

Yet a whopping 24 percent answered that poverty, the poor, homeless and welfare were the biggest issues.

And when asked the question, “compared to all the other problems the county faces, how serious is homelessness?” 66 percent replied very serious.

The poll results come at an interesting time just as a U.S. District Judge David O. Carter convenes city officials to his court on Tuesday to talk about putting together a regional framework for taking care of the most vulnerable among us – a leadership feat county supervisors should have been able to pull off a long time ago.

The Chapman poll shows people have lost faith in traditional politics.

Amidst the constant dog-and-pony, mailers and events, lame local ideology show put on by the amateur politicians we elect, can we blame them?

OC residents distrust Washington, D.C. as well as both political parties and feel the country is headed in the wrong direction, concludes the Chapman poll. They favor smaller government but very much see government as an effective way to solve local quality of life issues.

And while there is also pessimism about the general direction of Orange County – fueled by high housing costs and homelessness – there is optimism about people’s individual financial conditions.

On the typical political national issues, Chapman’s pollsters found divergent positions for traditional Orange County, with support for gun control, environmental protection, a legal path to citizenship for undocumented residents, rent control and restrictive land use planning.

Orange County residents, the poll found, are troubled by the growing gap between rich and poor and do not think government is doing enough to address the needs of the poor and homeless. They also see diversity as a source of strength, see climate change as a major issue and integrate those views into their support for curbs on local development as well as investments that enhance their local environment and quality of life.

These residents, who increasingly are renters but still aspire to own, don’t plan on moving out of Orange County despite the high cost of housing because they value the region’s quality of life.

They also don’t necessarily back affordable housing construction, and are willing to pay more for housing, because they don’t want more traffic.

People also still want single-family homes as opposed to high-rise developments but they also increasingly want walkable communities, the poll found.

In short, Orange County residents are willing to pay more for quality of life and they expect local elected officials to protect their investments.

Now, some will look at these more moderate traditional political positions for Orange County in the poll and start to conclude that it means a Blue Democratic wave is headed for the OC.

That could be true.

Yet that kind of analysis misses a much more important dynamic that goes beyond party ID.

Instead of the traditional red meat issues that politicians have been trained to force feed the public as they seek higher office, there’s a new electorate on the horizon, one that wants real progress in exchange for their tax dollars.

It’s about quality of life, stupid.