By Scott Kirwin
Since the Nov 8 election, disgruntled California Democrats have been kicking around the idea of California seceding from the United States. For a variety of reasons this is not happening, most especially because of the moldering bones in Civil War cemeteries throughout the Eastern USA. But let’s imagine if it was possible. For argument sake we must ignore the mechanism for how secession occurs – mainly because there isn’t one regardless of what Rep. Zoe Lofgren believes.
The Easy Part: Redrawing Boundaries
When California secedes the goal of secessionists will be to create a nation in which majority rules. But this may not be so appealing to minorities. Take for example a map portraying Republican/Democrat voting in the November 2016 election breakdown county-by-county. We’ll assume that these counties reflect the strong, consistent political beliefs of the population with red counties voting GOP and blue counties voting for the Democrats in all recent elections although this may not be true since some counties marked in blue like Orange and Riverside went for Romney in 2012.
California Presidential Vote 2016 – by County. Source: Politico.com
How likely would the less populous, conservative-voting California remain in the more densely populated, liberal California? If California is going to secede what would stop these counties from seceding from California and remaining in the Union? And what would happen to Nevada county, the blue tongue surrounded by red counties in the north? Hillary won that county by 2,000 votes out of 30,000 cast. Would the liberals be willing to forgo secession and hang with the surrounding red counties, or would they prefer to secede along with their liberal cousins on the coast? A similar situation existed in areas in Bosnia and Croatia, and the Serbs and Croats took matters into their own hands and murdered and terrorized their non-Serb, non-Croat neighbors until they left. Sparsely populated Mono and Alpine counties would face similar questions on the border with Nevada, assuming Nevada itself doesn’t secede.
While there are federal laws against state secession, I am not aware of any prohibiting the secession of counties from their states. The easiest way to gain secession might be for California to remain part of the United States while the secessionist counties left. This way the Union would be preserved at least at the state level, the secessionists get their new country – we’ll call it West California – and everyone theoretically is happy. That’s what this is all about, after all, making people happy who are so convinced they are right that they are willing to consider starting their own country.
Based purely on the 2016 vote here’s what California and West California would look like. Note that I split Fresno county east of Fresno due to the close vote there. California secessionists may not appreciate the importance of borders today, but you can rest assured their non-secessionists neighbors will.
But we’re not done yet. The US federal government also owns a lot of land including several military bases as shown in the red shaded areas of the map below.
Source: USGS Atlas, Federal Public Land Surface and Subsurface
Either West California would have to buy that land from the federal government or take it by force, which won’t be easy considering the new West California will likely not have its own military. At the very least the new country would likely cede the eastern halves of San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties containing the most US federal land while granting the US military long-term leases for their current bases in counties such as San Diego and Orange. The resulting country would likely end up looking something like this:
The new nation would have roughly 60,000 of the 163,696 square miles of the current state, but it would be much more populous, containing 33.7 million of the current state’s 37.2 million residents (2010 population estimates). The map below shows the population distribution of the current state.
So the boundaries have been redrawn. But there’s still a problem: nearly 35% of voters voted for the losing candidate in his or her county in Nov 2016. Most of these are Trump supporters living in the new West California. That’s a lot of disgruntled people. Will they remain where they are?
When independence looms it’s quite likely that there will be a migration of people to live with people who share their views. This is already happening according to a recent TED Talk by Jonathan Haidt, so we should expect some voluntary mass movement of people out of West California most likely to Arizona, Washington, Oregon following current state emigration patterns. The liberal influx from the remaining rump-state of California would be relatively minor by comparison. This will depress the population further and more so than the election numbers would suggest. According to voting tallies in the New York Times, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3.4 million votes. If we spread the population between the 11.2 million votes cast, we could surmise that each vote reflects the will of roughly 3.3 people (pop: 37.2m/11.2m votes). Trump received nearly 4 million votes, so we could guess that in the population of 2010 California there would be 13.2m Trump voters or sympathizers. Not all Trump voters or sympathizers will leave their jobs, families and homes, but a significant portion would when threatened by 2nd class status in a new nation. Even some of Hillary Clinton’s supporters might reconsider giving up their US citizenship to live in the new nation and join the exodus. Some voluntary migration will occur, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assess West California’s population to 25 million post- independence.
But it will grow and do so quickly, and not in the way liberals will appreciate. See why in Pt 2.