Latinos and Asian Americans are transforming the California electorate. Over the past two decades, 1.9 million Latinos and nearly 1 million Asian Americans have registered to vote, according to Mark DiCamillo, director of “The Field Poll,” a non-partisan California public opinion survey. Combined, they now represent 34 percent of registered voters in the state. While this is lower than their percentage of the state's population — Latinos and Asian Americans make up 52 percent of Californians — the significant increase is impacting local politics.
How exactly these two groups are impacting local politics is not as clear. They represent a diverse cross section of voters. Two-thirds of Asian American registered voters are first-generation immigrants, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside and founder of AAPIdata.com.
In contrast, the growth in the state’s Latino registered voters is primarily coming from the population’s American-born young people, who are increasing the numbers for their demographic, according to DiCamillo. “You have a younger voting population among Latinos. That’s another reason why you’ll continue to see Latinos increasing their share of the voting population,” DiCamillo said.
The upward trend in Latino and Asian American voters is one that DiCamillo said will “continue as far as the eye can see,” and that he expects ethnic voters to hold a majority of the California electorate in 10 years.
The increase in Asian American eligible voters is in part due to the efforts of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), said Ramakrishnan. AAAJ is a nonprofit organization that advocates for civil and human rights of underserved communities, such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It also works to mobilize voters during the election season by organizing phone banks, distributing multilingual voter information, and meeting voters at outreach events.
A similar group has been working to increase registration numbers in the Latino population in Southern California. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials holds voter registration drives and provides bilingual resources for the Latino population.
Ramakrishnan also noted that Latino voters in California have mobilized over the last 20 years to weigh in on “racially decisive propositions,” such as Prop 187 — legislation regarding undocumented immigrants' eligibility for public benefits — and Prop 227 — an initiative to limit bilingual education in California's schools.
But while voter registration numbers have increased among Asian Americans and Latinos, their voter turnout rates lag behind Whites. In 2010, 31 percent of eligible Asian Americans and Latinos voted nationwide, compared to 48.6 percent of Whites, according to the Pew Research Center.
Moreover, Latinos and Asian Americans typically turn out at a lower rate during a midterm election, said Ramakrishnan. “We know that turnout doesn’t go down for everyone. Turn out tends to drop more dramatically among younger voters, lower income voters, and among racial and ethnic minorities, generally speaking,” Ramakrishnan explained, adding that exceptions include the 2006 election — when the Iraq War drove young voters to the polls — and the 1998 election — when the African American vote was high because of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Tuesday’s election will see races for California governor, U.S. Congress, California State Assembly, Alhambra City Council, and several ballot measures. To find out more about your local candidates, check out these Alhambra Source interviews: