The 2012 election was the first in California in which "the
political might of the ethnic population really exerted its full force," and
it could mark a turning point in state politics, the director of the Field
Poll said Thursday.
Mark DiCamillo, director of the polling firm that's been surveying California voters for 65 years, noted that exit polls indicate 40 percent of those who voted in the state this month were Latinos, African-Americans or Asian-Americans.
It would mean that, among registered voters, minorities turned out in roughly the same proportion as non-Hispanic whites, he said. "That's never happened before."
That level of turnout, DiCamillo said, shows California "is now one of the nation's bluest of blue states."
DiCamillo and Mark Baldassare, CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, spoke Thursday at the Sacramento Press Club at a biennial event during which the state's two leading public pollsters analyze election returns.
DiCamillo said the overwhelming support for President Barack Obama among ethnic voters was solely responsible for his landslide, 21 percentage-point win in California. While non-Hispanic white voters backed Republican Mitt Romney by an 8 percent margin, he noted, Obama carried Latinos by 45 points, Asian-Americans by 53 points and African-Americans by more than 90 points.
"It bodes very poorly for the long-term prospects of the California Republican Party," he said.
Both pollsters agreed with the assessment of numerous national analysts that, to become more competitive among Latino voters, Republicans in Congress must support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have been working in the United States for a number of years.
That policy change alone, however, will not be enough, DiCamillo said.
"It's not even the one thing that I would point to as having the most to do with partisan preference," he said.
DiCamillo said the issue that most separates ethnic voters from non-Hispanic whites in California is their perception of the role of government. His polling has found that while non-Hispanic whites are essentially divided over the question of whether government should do more to try to improve the lives of residents, ethnic voters by a 2-to-1 margin believe that it should.
Baldassare said Republicans face separate policy challenges with each of the voting groups in which they fared the worst -- young voters, Latinos and women.
He said his polling indicates the major hurdle for Republicans with young voters is the party's opposition to same-sex marriage. With Latinos, it's immigration, and with women, it's the party's opposition to gun control.
"Those are the areas of alienation," he said.
DiCamillo said his polling in recent years has shown the Republicans' long-held hope that more Latinos will be attracted to the GOP because of its conservative views on social issues has dimmed.
While older Latinos continue to be socially conservative, he said, Latino voters under 35 hold essentially the same, more liberal views on such issues as same-sex marriage and abortion as do non-Hispanic white voters in the same age group.
DiCamillo said that among the ethnic subgroups, the most promising area for Republican improvement is with Asian-Americans.
"They are much more in play," he said. "About 40 percent to 45 percent of Asian-American voters are registered with no party preference. They do not have strong ties to either party; they just happened to vote very strongly for the Democrats in this cycle."
Both pollsters expressed skepticism at the findings of the National Exit Poll, which reported that voters under 30 represented 28 percent of the California electorate.
DiCamillo called that a "high side estimate" that might have resulted from an undersampling of those who voted by mail. "There's no way we could have been at that level."
He believes the USC/Los Angeles Times Poll released this week that suggests younger voters accounted for about 20 percent of the California electorate is likely more accurate.
However, there is no question that the nearly 1 million new voters who registered in late September and early October played a significant role in the California election, DiCamillo said.
Those voters, who were largely young and Democratic, turned out in significant numbers and are the reason that the final Field Poll -- which sampled only those voters registered as of Sept. 6 -- understated the level of support for both Obama and Proposition 30, he added.
His final poll put Obama's support at 54 percent, short of the 59 percent he received, and support for Proposition 30 at 48 percent, short of the 54 percent it received.
Those 6 percentage-point differences, he said, are largely attributable to the fact that those who registered in the final month did in fact cast ballots.
"We didn't factor in enough of the new voters," he said. "As Mervyn Field (the poll's founder) told me years ago, if somebody's going to register two weeks before an election, it's very likely they're going to vote."
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