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Outsiders frequently compare California to a separate nation rather than a state within the Union.  Indeed in terms of size, population and geography it would stand well in such a comparison.  Californians themselves never cease to point out its economy is the 7th largest in the world, larger for example than Spain or Canada; in land size it is larger than Britain or Italy and its natural borders are as well defined as those of France or Germany.
However, it is in its people that California can claim its distinctiveness, with as much variety within its borders as the rest of America.  Fast-growing, entrepreneurial and eternally optimistic, California often seems to point the way to America’s future.
California has always been a wealthy state, indeed it could be said that wealth is part of its birthright, dating from the discovery of gold in 1849.  Today the state’s wealth is very broadly based.  California is both the country’s leading agricultural producer and its modern industrial powerhouse, especially in high-tech electronics and aerospace.  Not to be forgotten is California’s global leadership in film, music and television entertainment.  The wealth and opportunities that California continues to offer, has attracted a record number of newcomers since the 1960s.  The state’s population has typically grown at a rate of 20 percent every decade, a trend that has made itself felt upon the rest of the country.  Both Presidents Nixon and Reagan were Californians, and any presidential candidate that takes the state is well on the way to claiming the Presidency.
Furthermore the population boom shows no sign of tailing off.  In 2002, California’s population was about 34.5m, an increase of about 5m over the previous ten years.  By 2025 it is projected to reach 50m. The swelling population is as diverse as any within America.  Significant Asian and Latino populations mix with settlers from every other state.  In 2002 about one in four Californians was foreign born and California takes 30% of the nation’s immigrants. In fact, the state’s racial makeup has already undergone a steady and permanent alteration with the Asian and Latino grouping almost equaling the state’s white population in size.  Indeed the 2000 census showed whites no longer comprised the majority of Californians. 
The influx of new residents has not come without its share of problems.  Cities have had to deal with unprecedented congestion in cities and overcrowding in schools, hospitals and prisons.  Rapid development in the state has brought environmental problems in its wake.  High levels of air pollution are simply an unpleasant but accepted fact of Californian life: Los Angeles is famously one of the few cities in the world where you can see what you breath.  Such issues will be costly and hence undoubtedly politically difficult to resolve.
Naturally enough, the state’s diversity reflects itself in the complexity and unique character of its politics.  One clearly discernible feature is the tension between the northern and southern portions of the state.  Although generalizations about California should be made with caution, broadly, the north typified by San Francisco tends to be more liberal leaning, whilst the south, more conservative.  Perhaps because of this, California has shown no particular loyalty to either of America’s 2 main parties.  Whilst being the state that providing two of the most influential of recent Republican presidents: Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, it has been steadfastly voting for Mssrs Clinton, Gore and Kerry in the Democratic column since 1992.  California’s choice of governor has been more eclectic still.  Californians were the first to elect a movie star to run their state in Ronald Reagan in 1964 - something they showed was no freak occurrence by repeating the feat in 2003 with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In between they have frequently given their backing to socially liberal Democrats.  Ultimately, Californians may care less about party, political philosophy and national politics that what candidates can do for California.  Thus, California has a history of inaugurating path breaking new solutions in their state that are sometimes even copied elsewhere in the country: for example in tax reform and crime. 
Perhaps the lack of one party domination has its roots in one key feature: changes of party and governor have seemed to make little long term difference – California is so large, diverse with access to so much human talent, its relentless increasing prosperity continues regardless.


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