|Valencia County, N.M.|
Monday, November 02, 2020
Rural New Mexico county has picked every president since 1952; reporter spoke to locals to find out how they're leaning
Alberta visited Valencia and spoke to voters to see what makes it a bellwether. The county of 76,688 is mostly rural; its largest town and county seat, Los Lunas, has just over 14,000 residents. Valencia is a cultural melting pot of white, Hispanic, and Native American culture, and Alberta noted that voting preferences cut across racial and ethnic lines.
Valencia Democrats and independents tend to be more conservative than in the rest of the U.S. One independent, Victor Lewis, said he voted for Obama twice, but increasingly felt that liberals looked down on his culture and now supports Trump. Almost all voters Alberta spoke to said they worried about climate change, but many said they felt that renewable-energy goals and environmental rules hurt the local economy and the environment, and some said they feared that Democrats would turn the U.S. into a communist or socialist country.
Valencia is showing signs of a rightward shift. "Registered Democrats used to outnumber registered Republicans here by a 2-to-1 ratio," Alberta reports. "But that gap has closed dramatically: Of the 48,824 total registered voters for this election, 18,918 are Democrats, 16,583 are Republicans and 9,353 are independents. (The small balance is made up of third-party registrants.)"
Republicans won all but one county office in 2016, though Democrats fared slightly better in the 2018 midterms. President Trump won 48% of the vote in Valencia in 2016, on par with how he did nationwide. But Hillary Clinton got 39%, nearly 10 points less than her share of the national vote. About 13% of Valencia voters went for a third-party candidate, Alberta reports.
The higher-than-average share of independent votes is unsurprising, said Valencia County clerk Peggy Carabajal; she thinks Valencia voters aren't as partisan as those in other places. "It’s kind of mind-boggling how many voters here have bounced back and forth between parties over the years," Carabajal told Alberta. "But I will say, this year seems much more polarized than it’s been in the past. It’s the pandemic, the economy, the protests—all of it.”
Valencia's not just a microcosm of the nation's votes, but of the neighbor-against-neighbor tensions that have increasingly roiled the U.S. "Whatever happens, it’s not going to be good," retired lineman Kenneth Tiger told Alberta. "I’ve already lost 30 friends in the past four years. It’s going to get worse. And I just can’t understand it. We’re not fighting a civil war over some great cause; we’re fighting a civil war over a man who has no principles and stands for nothing."
Based on his conversations with voters, Alberta predicts that Trump will carry Valencia County, but he also thinks Trump will lose the election and end the county's 68-year streak. "Maybe that means I didn’t talk to enough people. Maybe that means I didn’t go to the right places. But I think it probably means Valencia County, the most exceptional voting jurisdiction in America, a place that has resisted political tribalism for so long, is becoming like the rest of the country—predictable, polarized and loyally partisan," Alberta writes. "I hope I’m wrong. We need places that swing dramatically from one election to the next. We need voters who move frequently between parties. We need a country where fidelity to shared values trumps allegiance to partisan affiliation."