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Field Poll: Ethnic Voters to Determine California's Political Course

Posted: Nov 03, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO – New Latino and Asian American voters are swelling the registered-voter rolls in California, and how they vote could sway the outcome of next Tuesday’s general election, according to the results of a new Field Poll.

“California would not be a blue state if it wasn’t for the growing number of ethnic voters,” stated Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, at an ethnic media news briefing organized and hosted by New America Media.

In 2000, California’s voting population was 15.7 million. Today, the number stands at 18 million, and the vast majority of those new voters are Latino and Asian. The number of Latino voters alone – they now account for 23 percent of California voters -- increased by almost 1.7 million.

Ethnic voters in California, including African Americans who make up 6 percent of all registered voters in the state, are the main reason why President Obama enjoys a 15-point lead over Mitt Romney in the state, suggested DiCamillo.

Ethnic voters could also tip the scales in favor of both Prop 30 (Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure) and Prop 34 (which would ban the death penalty), which are currently too close to call.

The Field Poll, administered over landlines and cell phones during October, surveyed approximately 1,900 registered voters in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese. The poll was commissioned by New America Media, the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and Blue Shield of California Foundation.

Voters were asked for their preferences on the presidential election, the U.S. Senate election, and November ballot measures.

Tax Initiatives for Education

Prop 30, Governor Brown’s tax initiative, would temporarily raise the state sales tax and personal income taxes on earnings over $250,000 in order to fund K-12 schools and community colleges.

While there has been a slight overall decline in statewide support since September, from 51 percent to 48 percent, ethnic voters continue to support the initiative at a higher rate than white, non-Hispanic voters. 58 percent of African American voters and 56 percent of Latino voters favor Prop 30, as well as 49 percent of Asian Americans. Korean Americans, at 59 percent, support it the most.

Prop 30 needs 50 percent plus-one vote to pass, and 14 percent of voters are currently undecided. If the measure does muster enough support to win, it will be due to “the strength of the ethnic voting population,” said DiCamillo.

Prop 38, attorney Molly Munger’s initiative that has been positioned as an alternative to Prop 30, would increase personal income taxes on almost all Californians (not just high-income earners), and the revenue would only be directed to K-12 education, and not community colleges.

Overall statewide support for Prop 38 has decreased since September, from 41 percent to 34 percent. According to DiCamillo, Prop 38 has a low chance of passing. Most voters are either voting “yes” on both Prop 30 and Prop 38, or “no” on both. But, significantly, if the governor’s initiative fails, it could be due to the approximately 9 percent of voters who have indicated that they will vote “yes” on 38 and “no” on 30.

The Death Penalty and Political Contributions

Prop 34 would repeal the death penalty in California. Sixty years of polling on the issue, said DiCamillo, has shown steady support for the death penalty among California voters. But this year, in what he called a “historic” development, support for Prop 34 is gaining steam.

In early September, “yes” voters have increased from 42 percent to 45 percent, and “no” voters have decreased from 45 percent to 38 percent. African American, Latino, and Asian American voters all support Prop 34 at a higher rate than white non-Hispanic voters, with African Americans supporting it the most at 49 percent. If Prop 34 were to pass, it too would be because of ethnic voters, asserted DiCamillo.

The public is generally divided in half with regard to believing whether or not innocent people are executed too often, with 47 percent believing this is true, and 45 percent believing this happens “so rarely it’s unimportant.”

Prop 32 would eliminate payroll deductions for political contributions, and is what DiCamillo called “a tug of war between unions and corporate interests.” The measure is being largely perceived as an attack on labor unions. DiCamillo stated that it is unlikely to pass, with “no” voters polling at 50 percent, and “yes” voters at 34 percent. Latinos and African Americans support it the least of any subgroup, at 26 percent and 25 percent respectively.

Presidential and Senate Races

DiCamillo points out that if only white non-Hispanics were voting in California, the presidential race in the state would be a close one – 47 percent of white non-Hispanics are in favor of Obama, but another 47 percent have stated that they will vote for Mitt Romney. The President’s comfortable 15-point lead in California is primarily due to ethnic voters.

African Americans almost unanimously support Obama; Latinos support him at a rate of 3 to 1, and Asian Americans at a rate of 2 to 1.

Interestingly, when asked if their preference was more a vote for their candidate or a vote against his opponent, 79 percent of Obama voters stated that their vote was “for Obama” (with 14 percent saying it was “against Romney”), whereas 54 percent of Romney voters stated that their vote was “for Romney” and 39 percent saying it was “against Obama.”

With regard to the senate race between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Elizabeth Emken, DiCamillo said, “Most voters don’t even realize there’s an election going on.” Feinstein is steadily preferred at well over 50 percent; about three-quarters of all voters have no opinion of Emken.

A Changing Electorate

It is becoming increasingly common for new voters to express no party preference. Statewide, 21 percent of voters are registered as Independents, and this is especially common among Asian American subgroups. Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, and Vietnamese Americans are all more likely to be independent voters rather than Democrats or Republicans.

The youth vote also correlates with support for socially progressive policies – DiCamillo stated that these new voters are more likely to vote the same way as their peers, rather than their elders. Older Latino and Asian voters, for example, have historically been targeted by Republicans because they are perceived as being more conservative. Yet younger ethnic voters are much more likely to support progressive or Democratic measures such as Governor Brown’s Prop 30.

“These trends will continue. Demography marches on … California will become increasingly blue,” said DiCamillo.

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