Despite making up the majority of the state, people of color are far less likely to have a say in California politics, and Latino voting gaps are most pronounced in places like Fresno.
That’s according to a new report, “Unequal Voices: California’s Racial Disparities in Political Participation,” released Thursday by the civil rights organization Advancement Project and UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy. The report shows racial gaps remain even after accounting for socioeconomic factors like education and income.
Authors say the report, which analyzes 10 years of data, is the most comprehensive look at political participation in California in more than a decade. The report touches on voting trends, contact with public officials, campaign support and political meeting attendance.
“Our political system is in trouble when some groups have significantly more say than others,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, co-author of the report and associate dean of UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy.
Among the key findings:
- About one in 20 Asians and Latinos, and fewer than one in 10 blacks, contacted a public official compared to nearly one in six whites.
- In the 2012 presidential election, 48 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander adults and 49 percent of Latinos voted. By contrast, 64 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks voted. Lower naturalization rates worsen those disparities for Latino and Asian immigrants.
- Racial disparities worsen for all communities of color in midterm and local elections.
- California leads the nation when it comes to voting by mail, but Latinos and blacks voted by mail at a much lower rate. Asians vote by mail at higher rates, but vote at lower rates overall.
According to the report, Latino gaps in voting are most pronounced in counties of inland California, including Fresno, Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino. For Asian Americans, gaps in voting are greatest in the Bay Area counties of San Mateo, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Francisco.
In Fresno and the other inland counties, there was a 25-28 percentage point difference between all Latino residents and those who are registered to vote in 2014.
John Dobard of Advancement Project, co-author of the report, said more community leaders are becoming aware of the gaps in political participation, but it’s just the beginning.
“The data reveal a narrow range of voices are informing public policy,” he said. “The good thing is that can change.”
The report says political and community leaders should increase voter registration and turnout among communities of color. It also calls for civic education; outreach and mobilization on policy issues, especially among low-income communities; and more creative ways, beyond public comment periods, to engage the residents.
This year’s elections, buoyed by the races for president, appear to be driving an increase in voter registration. Political Data Inc. found that the number of Latino voters in Fresno County doubled from Jan. 1 to the primary election deadline, compared to the same period in 2012. That’s partly due to voter mobilization campaigns from groups like Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), Voto Latino and Univision.
It’s important for people to know these gaps matter in a year when the election looks like it’s going to be so close.
Lisa Bryant, Fresno State political science professor
Lisa Bryant, a Fresno State political science professor whose research has looked at mobilizing minority voters, said the problem is not so much getting people of color to register – it’s getting them to the polls. She said that is a big problem in the central San Joaquin Valley, especially in Kern County.
Byrant said political campaigns are starting to conduct bilingual outreach to build trust with non-English-speaking groups, either through the mail or door-to-door.
Many Latinos in the Valley come from families that historically didn’t participate in politics. Because of that background, Bryant said, there are much bigger voting gaps here than other parts of the state.
“It becomes sort of tradition: ‘My family doesn’t vote,’ ” she said.
As for Asian Americans, Bryant said research tends to focus on Chinese and Japanese, rather than Hmong, who are more prominent in the Valley. She said political participation among Hmong residents in Fresno is even lower than that of Latinos.
Bryant said that’s because Hmong people haven’t been in the U.S. very long and political groups still are figuring out how to get them involved.
“It’s important for people to know these gaps matter in a year when the election looks like it’s going to be so close,” she said. “So it is really going to come down to these different subgroups turning out and actually getting voters to the polls.”