Race-related politics in America more visible than ever

| May 3, 2013

In era of Obama, experts examine how much minority voting has become a sleeping giant

By Corey Arvin
Special to the NNPA from Black Voice News

Part one of two
(click here to read part two)

Editor’s note: Due to the length of this important analysis piece, we have opted to present it in two parts so that it can be shared with Frost Illustrated readers in its entirety.

Injecting the conversation of race and diversity into any election has been long regarded as a political minefield which liberal and conservative candidates alike should sidestep as it could diminish their chances of victory.

Fast forward to Nov. 6, 2012, staggering minority voter turnout of African American, Latino, Asian and LGBT voters—thanks in part to allegations of voter suppression in southern states—eased Barack Obama into a second term as president of the United States. It turned out to be a historic election that sent shock waves that are still reverberating through conservative ranks.

Suddenly, minorities are the focal point of an election.

Today, with America’s political landscape reshaped, fear is brewing among conservatives and some Democrats that the growing minority electorate may shun white candidates or give preference in favor of minority candidates.

With African Americans boosting voter turnout to a record high of 13 percent last year and the Latino voting population swelling to 10 percent of the U.S. electorate, concerns are surfacing that November 2012 could become a trend that impacts local and national elections.

Some point to the public outcry in the City of Palmdale that has drawn national attention as a possible example of new expectations among minority citizens. Palmdale, a desert community about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, has some citizens dismayed over 50-plus years of white candidates elected to the City Council in a city with about two-thirds African Americans and Latinos. Since the city’s incorporation in 1962, only one Latino has served on the City Council and no African Americans. The contention has raised questions about whether Palmdale is a microcosm of a larger frustration among minority voters eager for representation from officials who share similar backgrounds.

According to Loren Collingwood, an assistant professor of political science at University of California, Riverside (UCR), rumblings among conservatives that a new future on the horizon that neglects and disenfranchises white voters is far from reality—right now. While the matter has triggered anxiety among some white voters, the notion that changing demographics will be difficult for white candidates to overcome are “ridiculous” assumptions that may never manifest.

Collingwood, who has worked for political polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in Washington D.C., received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Washington. He frequently analyzes campaigns and elections and the intersection with race and ethnicity. Collingwood is authoring a book which examines the relationship between white candidates and black and Latino voters over the past 50 years. He acknowledges that race is becoming an increasingly apparent topic and difficult to ignore during election cycles.

“The reality is that race is becoming more front and center in recent years, primarily because of Obama. But, party I.D. is still the overwhelming factor driving voter behavior.… Party I.D. is a salient factor. Voting on race is much more impactful on the local level, in a big city. There is where you can see the real racial cleavages,” said Collingwood.

Overwhelmingly, voters will point to a candidate’s policies and ideas as the driving force behind their support, but in truth, race can play an evident role in a minority’s candidate choice, according to Collingwood.

“Most people who study race and elections argue that race is at the center of elections, especially when a candidate is minority. The most polarized groups in American politics split largely along racial lines; Evangelical whites almost uniformly vote for Republican candidates, whereas African American voters usually support Democrats 90 percent or higher. Latinos, too, support Democrats now around 70 percent of the time. The electorate as a whole is growing more racially diverse, so these types of cleavages will become even more key. “Twenty years ago, race was arguably less important simply because there were more white voters,” he said.

Despite its 16.7 percent composition of the U.S. population—edging over African Americans’ 13.1 percent—and 11 million undocumented immigrants uncertain of their future, few would argue that any other demographic group has captured the attention of political organizations such as the Latino population. With hot-button issues like proposed immigration reform in limbo and debates over which Latino officials on either sides of the aisle should take greater leadership for the Latinos, the focus on their growing voting bloc could remain into the 2014 and 2016 congressional, state and national elections.

However, Latinos are currently submerged in a battle for comprehensive immigration reform and to eradicate “anti-Latino” policies that hurt Latinos, according to State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach).

Lara is Chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC) which includes 23 state senators and assembly members. The Latino Caucus serves as a forum for members from the State Senate and Assembly to identify key issues affecting Latinos and develop avenues to empower the Latino community throughout California.

Following in the footsteps of generations of pioneering Latinos who settled and helped build California, Latino legislators united in 1973 to maximize their power notwithstanding their limited numbers. Since its creation 40 years ago the Caucus has grown in both numbers and stature.

“Over the last 20 years, the Latino community has felt the effect of anti-Latino policies that have unfairly targeted it, but have also served to mobilize the community. One clear example is the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994 under Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s leadership. This anti-immigrant proposal established a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibited undocumented immigrants from using healthcare, public education, and other social services in California,” said Lara.

Lara also cites Proposition 209, which was passed in 1996, and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 as two additional policies that were a detriment to Latinos in the areas of employment, education and human services.

“As the Latino population continues to grow and becomes an increasingly integral part of our state and our nation, our leadership, priorities and focus must reflect the changing and diverse face of our state and country,” said Lara.

Next: Latino voting power and the hope of a brown-black political coalition.

Corey Arvin is a contributing writer for Black Voice News who has worked as a staff writer and online news producer for Los Angeles News Group, as well as a staff writer for the Press-Enterprise Co. He was also a recipient of the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award for Web Reporting. Follow him on Twitter @coreyarvin for upcoming features and the latest information on BlackVoiceNews.com.

 

This article originally appeared in our May 1, 2013 issue.

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