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Resources from Webinar: 2018 Political Forecast

Publication date: 
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On August 15, the California Policy Forum presented a webinar titled 2018 Political Forecast – What Can We Expect and How Can We Prepare? It explored the state’s current political landscape as the 2018 elections commence. It also considered what trends nonprofits and philanthropy should be alert to during this time. Speakers included:

  • Hon. Monique Limón, Assembly Member, District 37, Santa Barbara; Chair of the new Assembly Select Committee on the Nonprofit Sector
  • Laurel Rosenthal, Reporter at
  • Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles


Nancy Berlin, Policy Director for CalNonprofits, moderated the panel. The California Policy Forum is a partnership between CalNonprofits, Philanthropy California (Northern California Grantmakers, San Diego Grantmakers, and Southern California Grantmakers), and the League of California Community Foundation. This partnership brings together nonprofits and philanthropy in our state on policy issues of shared interest.


Midterm Elections – Overall Trends

Panelists remarked on the tumultuous forthcoming Midterm Elections in 2018. Panelists spoke of the 53 House Congressional seats up for election in 2018, with the potential of a realignment of seven congressional districts currently held by incumbents. Rosenthal and Dr. Sonenshein opined that Republican incumbents in “swing” districts were particularly vulnerable due to their votes for the healthcare bill. They also noted the emerging divide in the state Democratic Party, as evidenced by the contentious race for a new Chair of the California Democratic Party. 

Political consultants remarked that the midterm elections are going to be difficult to predict. While midterm elections are commonly decided by the party that turns out to vote, it will be a challenge to know the mood of voters and voting behavior. On the one hand, those in California who disagree with the Administration are motivated to vote in this midterm election. On the other hand, some may feel too discouraged to participate. Meanwhile, uncertainty remains around how the 4 million people in California who cast their ballots for President Trump last year will translate their electoral influence in the midterm elections.

Furthermore, Rosenthal emphasized that voters feel differently about their local representatives than they do about the president or congressional leadership. She said that it would not be strange for many who have an intimate familiarity with their Member of Congress to vote for one party at the top of the ticket and another for their local leader. These nonpartisan voting patterns also make election predictions difficult.

This memorandum provides a summary of the webinar. Highlights are aggregated into the following categories: Midterm Elections, California’s Race for Governor, Issue Areas to Focus On, and What Can Nonprofits and Philanthropy Do.


California’s Race for Governor

Rosenthal and Dr. Sonenshein agreed that California’s upcoming gubernatorial election will be one of the most important races in 2018. The election will garner national attention as many believe that the incoming Governor of California will position himself or herself as a leader against the Administration.  This election will be the first time the top-two reform will be in effect for the gubernatorial race. Therefore, the nonpartisan primary will be particularly important to watch. Reflecting voter registration, voting behavior, and trends, many presume that the General Election will consist of two Democrats, as observed in the U.S. Senate race in 2016. However, Dr. Sonenshein acknowledges that there is a possibility that the number of Democrats in the primary may divide voters and allow for a Republican candidate to move ahead to the General Election.

According to recent polls, the top two candidates thus far are California’s Lieutenant Governor and former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom, and former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa. These two candidates signal the stark economic and political divide between Northern California and Southern California. Rosenthal remarked that Northern California represents a tech industry that is attracting a highly educated population; meanwhile, Southern California is creating more jobs in the service and labor industry with only a small portion of the population in the entertainment industry. According to Rosenthal, because of this divide, a regional matchup may present itself in the governor’s race.


Issue Areas to Focus On

Rosenthal and Dr. Sonenshein spoke about a possible litmus test for Democratic candidates, both in the upcoming congressional and state elections. Issues such as healthcare legislation and who is viewed as a more vocal opponent to federal leadership may determine how voters evaluate these candidates.

  • Single-Payer Healthcare: Democrats remain divided on passing single-payer healthcare legislation. The bill, Senate Bill 562, passed the Senate in June but was held in the Assembly by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. Speaker Rendon raised concerns that the bill lacked specifics, including a revenue source to fund it. Supporters of the bill responded with a petition to recall the speaker. This issue will likely continue to divide Democrats in the primary. The Speaker has since announced a set of hearings to study universal healthcare coverage.
  • California against Washington: A second issue that may pit Democratic candidates against each other is determining who is viewed as a more vocal opponent to federal leadership. Specifically, Dr. Sonenshein mentioned that there may be a re-emerging debate on affirmative action, which could be divisive to the Democratic Party. Immigration may also divide Democratic candidates as federal policy continues to clash with state government and state lawmakers may differ in how to best respond.


One emerging trend that Rosenthal thought important to note is the deregulation in Washington, D.C. Although not a common campaign issue, Rosenthal predicts that there will be increasing pressure for regulatory bodies in California to fill the gap. The issue of regulation may surface this election cycle, although it may not divide Democratic candidates.


What Can Nonprofits and Philanthropy Do

State Assembly Member Monique Limón first discussed the effective methods to raising the voice of nonprofits and philanthropy to elected officials.

  • Advocacy: Assembly Member Limón emphasized the opportunity nonprofits and philanthropy have to advocate issues. Whether it is meeting with state legislatures, participating in committee hearings, or voicing support or opposition to policy, it is important to use resources that the state has in place to make sure that officials know what the sector thinks. In addition, Assembly Member Limón spoke of the significance of regions coming together and advocating overarching policy areas of interest to the sector.
  • Participation: The Assembly Member encouraged leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to participate on statewide boards and commissions. She finds these spaces opportune for one’s expertise to be heard in the policy process.


Assembly Member Limón also listed actions nonprofits and philanthropy can take to be most effective in the upcoming midterm election. She suggested the following:

  • Producing an education-based, nonpartisan report on issues of importance to the sector for public distribution.
  • Creating sector scorecards on issues for the state level and sharing them with elected officials.
  • Organizing educational forums on a nonpartisan issue to raise awareness of the issue and the sector for candidates.
  • Conducting voter registration drives to encourage voter participation.


Dr. Sonenshein spoke of the need for nonprofits and philanthropy to take the lead on addressing inequality and poverty as a means to increase voter participation in the midterm elections. Dr. Sonenshein explained that in places like Southern California, in particular Los Angeles County, great levels of poverty present barriers to voting and other forms of political participation. While lawmakers may face bureaucratic and political challenges to addressing inequality, nonprofits and philanthropy can more effectively tackle the issue and increase voter turnout.

Overall, forecasts for the 2018 elections are uncertain – presenting an opportunity for nonprofits and philanthropy to play a role in informing and influencing elected officials, candidates, and voters on issues that matter most to communities. 

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Michelle Ito, Public Policy Intern, at [email protected].

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