BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — If you think it’s likely President Trump carries Kern County in Tuesday’s election, history says you’re right. Kern County has voted for the Republican standard bearer in 13 straight presidential elections, and 16 of the past 17, going all the way back to 1952.
But why? What are the factors that have made Kern County perhaps the last bastion of concentrated conservative ideology in California?
Throughout the nation’s various swings from liberalism to conservativism and back again, from isolationism to global big brotherism, Kern County has stayed remarkably consistent. It may have been close in certain years, but Kern County votes Republican, and voter registration numbers say we probably will again.
Hillary Clinton won the U.S. popular vote in the 2016 presidential election by nearly 3 million votes.
Kern County, however, picked the winner, and by a landslide — 53 percent for Donald Trump, 40 percent for Hillary Clinton.
We’ve been voting Republican since the turn of the century — the previous turn of the century. From 1900 — when Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan, Kern has leaned heavily Republican.
Kern County switched to the Democrats during World War I but then turned red again for the next three elections. Then the world changed, and Kern County with it.
The Great Depression cost millions their jobs, their homes, their piece of mind, and the demand for change — and a better regulated market — lifted Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt into office.
Then came war, and a unified country, and county, that kept Democrats in charge all the way through 1948, when even the presence of Kern County’s favorite son, the former California governor and that’s year’s Republican vice presidential nominee, Earl Warren, could not keep Democrat Harry Truman from victory. Warren and Thomas Dewey, at the top of the ticket, lost in an upset.
Republican Dwight Eisenhower won here in 1952 and 1956, and Republican Richard Nixon in 1960, even though he lost the national election to John F. Kennedy. Then, that one exception — Kern County picked Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964.
But from that point on, 13 straight Republican victories in Kern County. Some, like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who also won the national election. Some, like Gerald Ford and Bob Dole, who didn’t.
Why has Kern County been so consistent in its support for Republicans for 16 of 17 elections spanning 68 years?
Bakersfield College history professor R. Allen Bolar says it’s a product, in part, of Kern County’s consistent rural character.
“California used to be a lot like a midwestern state,” he said. “It was mostly — if you think about going back to the 1910s and people going to Los Angeles and this area — it was people from Ohio, people from Indiana, and those were Republican states. I think a lot of them brought their Republician politics with them to California and made California a pretty consistently Republican state. … Now, the big switch (of the parties’ identities) did happen — it happened primarily along racial lines and it reflected a Southern shift. So Southern whites who used to vote Democratic began to vote Republican. It probably had less of an effect here in Kern County because that particular dynamic, I think, was less prevalent here.”
Jeremy Adams, a Bakersfield High School teacher, author, and CSU Bakersfield adjunct, essentially agrees.
“I do believe that that tradition — and it’s a tradition that goes back about 100 years — of the Republican Party being the party of believing the government is a ‘them'” is well entrenched, Adams said. “We really want to be able to run our businesses and live our lives the way that we want to, with minimal government.
“We are a valley people. That’s in our blood. Even though we’re a big city now, I think we still have the disposition of rural voters.”
Until 1992, when California and the rest of the nation went with Democrat Bill Clinton, Kern County had voted with the rest of California in every election since 1900 with one exception — Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose independent run of 1912. Teddy won the state but narrowly lost Kern.
Since 1992, though, Kern County and the state as a whole haven’t supported the same presidential candidate even once.
What about 2020? Well, it’s clear that this year anything is possible.