Commentary

11/07/2012  by Alexandra Bjerg

Despite media narrative, California electorate not as diverse as population

Although you might not know it given that the mobilization of the Latino voting bloc is one of the main reasons cited by the media for President Obama's re-election, California’s electorate does not yet reflect the state population’s racial diversity. The state’s voter rolls have not been able to keep up with the rapid pace at which California’s population has become more diverse. 

The good news is things are trending in the right direction, specifically in relation to representation and engagement of Latinos in the just-concluded November’s election. 

California is home to more than 14.4 million Latinos, the nation’s largest population of Hispanics, making up 32 percent of the adult population. However, Latinos account for only 20 percent of registered voters. All year civic organizations, candidates, and political parties have been working tirelessly to register, inform, and ensure Latinos turnout at the polls; their efforts appear to be working. 

Nationwide, a record 24-million Latinos are eligible to vote this year and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund predicted a turnout of 12.2 million at the polls on Election Day. This is an increase of 26 percent since the 2008 presidential election. Final numbers are still beingt tallied but pundits who predicted that both the Latino and youth votes would recede to normal levels from 2008 were clearly proven wrong.

One reason why Latino turnout is still lagging, however, is because one third of eligible voters are under 30. Young people, across all ethnicities, tend to register and vote at a much lower rate than older people. In California, some recent reforms may help increase the younger Latino vote. 

More than 50 percent of the 1-million applications received through the newly launched online voter registration system were submitted by Californians under 30.  Seeing that as one in three 18-29 year old Californians is Latino, it’s highly probable that Latinos will see a significant boost in voter registration. 

Despite these promising statistics, Hispanics make up a smaller proportion of California’s electorate than would be expected from the rapid growth in their population. Therefore they have less say in the important decisions that impact their daily lives. 

Nonvoters and infrequent voters tend to be younger, poorer, and browner than likely voters, which gives them a different political perspective than their engaged counterparts. For example, a recent Field poll commissioned by New America Media shows that whites and Latinos in California differ greatly in their support for giving undocumented immigrants the same tuition discount at public universities as other residents, with 55 percent of Hispanic likely voters in favor and just 25 percent of whites.  

Unfortunately, because political power stems from voting, there is little incentive for elected representatives to prioritize policies or for special interests to bankroll initiatives preferred by a group unlikely to hold them accountable via the ballot box. 

In order to maintain a vibrant and representative democracy, California Forward believes that we must continue to diversify and expand our electorate.  We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Latino voter turnout on Election Day and their impact on state and local races and reporting to you what the experts believe it meant in November and what it means for future elections.

Categories: Democracy, Elections, Californians

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