The Golden State wasn’t always blue. 

Before California was the solidly Democratic state we know it to be today, the state’s Republican Party was a force to be reckoned with. Prop 187 helped changed all that.

Spectrum News 1’s Amrit Singh investigates the legacy of Prop 187 and how California politics shifted from red to blue.


Prop 187 was a ballot measure that aimed to prevent undocumented immigrants from having access to public services, such as public schools, healthcare, and more. 

By the year 1994, California had a strong track record for breeding conservative Presidents, including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Yet that year, California’s Republican Governor Pete Wilson faced a tough reelection campaign. Ads for Wilson’s reelection campaign showed video of people running across the U.S.-Mexico border with the tagline “They keep coming.”

These polarizing campaign ads aired in households across the state and were just part of Wilson’s larger reelection plan. Wilson campaigned on Prop 187, which he claimed would save taxpayer dollars by denying public services to undocumented immigrants. 

At the time, Prop 187 was unprecedented. No state had ever considered a more controversial immigration law. Prop 187 stoked a major culture war in California. As the election approached, protestors on both sides of the issues clashed at rallies all over the state.



On November 8, 1994, Prop 187 passed overwhelmingly: 59% to 41%. Governor Pete Wilson was also reelected, signifying an important victory for the Republican Party.

These were short-term victories. Soon after Prop 187’s passage, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order and the bill never went into effect.

The damage, however, was done. In the process, the Republican Party alienated Latino immigrants, a group whose cultural values had traditionally aligned with the right.

Many Latino immigrants felt the bill was an attack, so they left, for the left.


Over the next several years, there was a surge in voter registration for the Democratic Party. Today, Republicans only represent about 24% of the state’s registered voters.



The bill also inspired many Latinos to enter public service.

Multiple Latino politicians, including former Democratic presidential candidate and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, have credited Prop 187 with their own political awakenings. 

California’s immigration policies have also changed significantly since the passage of Prop 187. California is now a sanctuary state, meaning undocumented immigrants can access healthcare, procure driver’s licenses, and use other public services. 

The political shift is about more than just Prop 187. For example, industrial jobs began leaving the state and more tech jobs flowed in, changing California’s voting patterns beyond any one ballot measure. 

In the end, the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Prop 187 sparked an undeniable change in California’s political makeup and its lasting effects can still be seen today.

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