Why You Should Care About The Plan To Break Up California

California is the most populous state in the US, a fact some believe makes it ungovernable. The Six Californias Initiative would seek to make things more manageable by dividing the state into six parts. But what effect might this division have? How would each new state compare, demographically, to the other now-55 states? How might these new geopolitical entities vote?

Datavisualization expert John Nelson explores these and other hypotheticals in a new infographic he calls "Six Californias." Here are some interesting takeaways from the graphic, which draws its data from the US Census, Politico's 2012 county-level Presidential election counts and the initiative itself [click here for the hi-res version]:



  • Assuming the divided states voted along existing partisan affiliations, 3 of the nu-states would be "red" and three would be "blue." If a future presidential election were to play out similarly to 2012's, 37 electoral votes would go to the Democratic candidate, and 28 to the Republican.
  • The most populous of the new states, under measures proposed by the initiative, would be West California, with a total resident population of 11.3 million people.
  • The least populous would be Jefferson. The new state would encompass the northern reaches of present-day California and a population just shy of one-million residents (just 3% of the state's present population), making it the 49th most populous state in the Union.
  • 18% of modern day Californians would become "Siliconians," i.e. residents of the state of Silicon Valley. Together, it's likely that Siliconians would comprise one of the most partisan states in U.S. history, having voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate in 2012.
  • Voting in 2012 was split nearly 50-50 along party lines in the counties that would become South California. The counties that would become Central California were pretty purple in 2012, as well, suggesting both could become battleground states were the six-state initiative to go into effect.

Nelson says the chart is more of a thought exercise than anything else. "This is far too complex a topic to handle this simplistically," he tells io9, "but it got me thinking some about what various new senses of statehood would look like through the perspective of voting." He continues:

Would folks be more likely to vote if they felt more closely associated with more local peers? Would a new sense of identity result in more enthusiasm at polls? Would people who felt disenfranchised or marginalized in a huge state's winner-take-all electoral system feel a new sense of meaning to casting their vote? What might be the effect of smaller, in some cases more partisan, states to peoples' sense of voting urgency?

Nelson says a graphic like his can't hope to answer any of these questions with certainty (though some partisan affiliations – Silicon Valley's for examples – are so one-sided as to eliminate a lot of guesswork), but it can get us thinking and talking about them. This, Nelson explains, "is the sneaky wonder of datavisualization."


"It is pretty basic, and a real stretch when it comes to characterizing the personalities and priorities of the people who would live within the states," says Nelson, "but it's a start."

Nelson's work typically centers around risk assessment, but he's done some great, politically themed visualizations, as well. For more of his work, check out his ever-captivating dataviz blog.

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