Acting on a frequently expressed desire for greater local government control, officials in Siskiyou and Modoc counties have called for seceding from California to form a new 51st state called Jefferson along with other rural counties in northern California and southern Oregon. Another proposal calls for designating their counties as a special territory called Jefferson Republic, which would establish the legal framework for creating an additional government but would technically remain part of the states of California and Oregon.
The Field Poll, in a survey completed last week, asked a statewide sample of California voters what they thought of these proposals. The results show that only one in four voters (25%) back the idea of having these counties break away from California to form a new state.
The findings are not much different when Californians are asked about the proposal to designate these counties as a special territory, with 27% of voters approving and 58% disapproving the idea.
The complete survey, including the tables, the questions and a discussion of the methodology, is available here.
Opposition to both proposals is bipartisan, with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisans opposed. While there is slightly greater support for the proposals among voters in inland counties and parts of Northern California outside the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley, even in these areas more disapprove than approve of the idea.
Statewide voters oppose the idea of creating a new state called Jefferson
The poll first measured statewide voter sentiment to having the state’s northern-most California counties join with a number of counties in southern Oregon to secede from their respective states and establish a new state called Jefferson. Voter sentiment runs against the idea more than two to one, with 25% of voters approving and 59% disapproving.
Because the twelve California counties near the state’s northern border comprise just a tiny share of the state’s overall voter population, interviews conducted in any statewide poll, like the current Field Poll, include only a small number in the affected counties. This prevents reporting survey results from this area separately with any degree of statistical reliability. However, more voters in each of the state’s five major regions oppose the idea than are supportive.
Statewide voters also oppose the idea of these counties forming a special territory
Formally seceding from California to form a new state would require approval of both houses of the state legislature as well as the U.S. Congress, formidable legal hurdles. As a result, some believe a more practical approach might be to designate their counties as a special territory called “Jefferson Republic.” Establishing this designation would not require approval of either the state legislature or the Congress and could be granted if voters in the affected counties were to vote to establish such a designation. Petitions are currently being circulated to do just that in hopes of qualifying an initiative for the June 2014 ballot in these counties.
When all California voters are asked about the idea of designating these counties as a special territory, opponents again outnumber supporters more than two to one (58% to 27%).
People living in the state’s northern-most, rural portions have for decades complained that the legislature and other agencies of the state and federal government do not pay enough attention to their needs and interests.
The most celebrated of the efforts by these counties to separate from California occurred seventy-two years ago in late 1941. Then, residents mounted an aggressive campaign to secede from the state. Citizens in these counties routinely stopped traffic on Highway 99 handing out flyers to travelers proclaiming their independence. A local newspaper ran a contest to name the new state, with the winning entry being Jefferson, and Yreka its titular capitol. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane filed a series of colorful articles about the rebellion, which eventually earned him a Pulitzer Prize.
On December 4 of that year a torchlight parade together with marching bands and large crowds ceremonially inaugurated a governor for the new state of Jefferson. But, three days later on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into World War II, and the state of Jefferson rebellion came to an abrupt end.
Ed’s Note: The findings in this report are based on a Field Poll survey completed November 14-December 5, 2013 among 1,002 registered voters in California. Up to six attempts were made to reach, screen and interview each randomly selected voter from the state’s registered voter rolls on different days and times of day during the interviewing period. The maximum sampling error for results from the overall sample is +/- 3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.