Monday, August 30, 2010 Orange County Is No Longer Whitopia

Monica Almeida/The New York Times published: August 29, 2010

SANTA ANA, CA — Orange County has been a national symbol of conservatism for more than 50 years.

It was the birthplace of President Richard M. Nixon and home to John Wayne, a bastion for the John Birch Society, a land of orange groves and affluence.

It is a region of California where Republican presidential candidates could always count on a friendly audience.

But this iconic county of 3.1 million people passed a milestone in June. The percentage of registered Republican voters dropped to 43 percent, the lowest level in 70 years.

It was the latest sign of the demographic, ethnic and political changes that are transforming the county and challenging long-held views of a region whose colorful reputation extends well beyond the borders of this state.

It is the home of Orly Taitz, a classic Orange county wing nut.

At the end of 2009, nearly 45 percent of the county’s residents spoke a language other than English at home, according to county officials.

Whites now make up only 45 percent of the population; this county is teeming with Hispanics, as well as Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese families.

Its percentage of foreign-born residents jumped to 30 percent in 2008 from 6 percent in 1970, and visits to some of its corners can feel like a trip to a foreign land.

The demographic changes that have swept the county reflect what is happening across the state and much of the nation.

In 2008, Barack Obama drew 48 percent of the vote here against Senator John McCain of Arizona. In 1980, Jimmy Carter received just 23 percent against Ronald Reagan, the conservative hero whose election as California governor in 1966 and 1970 from Orange County.

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