Ethnic Voters Bolster Democratic Edge in State, Poll Finds


Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said California’s ethnic voters are so numerous they can no longer be ignored. Photo by Lissette Alvarez/SF Public Press.

California is reliably “blue” — Barack Obama carried the state by 23 points in the last election — largely because of the rise of ethnic voters, a new survey by the Field Poll found.

“This hasn’t always been the case,” said the poll’s director, Mark DiCamillo. Republicans won seven of the nine elections between World War II and 1982, when the state became solidly Democratic in federal elections. “The main reason for it is because of the growth of ethnic population.”

Polling, he said, has suffered from a lack of frequent, reliable polls comparing the views of the state’s large and diverse ethnic voter populations. But researchers need to pay more attention to Latino and Asian communities, which are increasingly responsible for the marked shift in voter preferences as their populations continue to surge.

The change reflects dramatic demographic shifts. The portion of California’s registered voters who were Latino or Asian more than doubled. In 22 years, the Latino population increased from 10 percent to 22 percent of the electorate, and Asian Americans grew from 3 percent to 8 percent.

DiCamillo presented the results of the new survey with New America Media, an organization that aggregates the ethnic press, at the offices of the San Francisco Foundation on Friday. The survey examined ethnic voters’ feelings about the presidential candidates and state ballot measures including propositions 30, 38 and 34.

Multilingual interviews

New America Media helped the Field Poll to supplement its regular statewide voter samples with interviews in several of the state’s largest Asian communities in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.

Pollsters also interviewed almost 1,200 registered voters on landlines and cell phones.

Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, said the non-English press now plays a critical role in influencing ethnic voters in California.

“Ethnic media informs and engages them, so they really need to know what their audience thinks,” Close said. “It’s critical for these voters to be able to have a poll that breaks down with representative samplings. And of course the big hole is Filipinos. But even what we did cost $25,000, just to do the Asian sample. Next time my absolute commitment would be to include Filipino and South Asian voters.”

Obama a clear favorite

More than 58 percent of California voters preferred Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Only 34 percent supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Independents play a key role in the Democrats’ lead.

“In every poll since last September, Obama was comfortably ahead,” DiCamillo said. “Democrats unanimously voted for Obama, while Republicans voted for Romney, but the nonpartisans are trending toward Obama.”

But DiCamillo asserted that California has split into two states — the coastal area, voting Democratic, and inland, leaning Republican. Field Poll researchers concluded that Obama got most of his edge from Latinos, Asians, and African Americans.

Ballot measures

Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature tax initiative that would restore some funding to schools, is trailing, DiCamillo reported. But the proposition is only 3 percentage points behind, he said, so “the undecided voters could determine the outcome.” The size of the ethnic voter population is a big factor, he said.

Proposition 38, also aimed at funding education, has a low chance of passing, DiCamillo said.

Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty, is also running below 50 percent. “Most people who are undecided in the late stages tend to be no-voters,” he said. So it will be hard, even with the support of minority voters, to close the 6 percent gap for the proposition.

Don't miss out on our newest articles, episodes and events!
Sign up for our newsletter