Report reveals racial disparity among CA political participants

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Audrey McNamara/File

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Despite widespread political activity throughout the state in the aftermath of this year’s elections, Californians are not as politically engaged as they should be, according to a Feb. 2 report coauthored by Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a campus chancellor’s professor of political science.

The report, titled “Unequal Voices: Who Speaks for California? Part II,” was released by Advancement Project California and states that white people in California wield a greater amount of political influence than Latinos and Asian Americans, who make up the majority of the state population.

Garcia Bedolla said the research was meant to determine whether racial disparities — as first shown in the June 2016 report, “Unequal Voices: Part I” — still existed in California politics.

“Democracy is predicated on the assumption that everyone has an equal voice,” Garcia Bedolla said. “For democracy to work, (it) really needs to reflect needs and opinions and issues that are important to everyone.”

The report alleges that Californians in minority groups are underrepresented in political activities, while white people are overrepresented. According to the report, white people are more likely to call their representatives and contribute to campaigns than Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans.

These racial disparities also exist among millennials, the report states. Garcia Bedolla attributed this increased disengagement to a growing rift between youth and political parties.

“A growing number of people, especially people of color, identify as ‘decline to state,’ ” Garcia Bedolla said. “People who don’t have a political party preference are less likely to participate.”

The study also determined that people of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to protest than those of higher socioeconomic status. According to Garcia Bedolla, protesting stems from a feeling of exclusion and is historically the most accessible method of political engagement for minorities.

The report presents several solutions to closing the racial gap in state politics, including by improving the quality of civic education in public schools and by gauging constituent satisfaction with elected officials. Additionally, the report suggests that the state increase outreach to voters and encourage more people to get involved in the political process.

Campus political science lecturer Alan Ross said while he considered the report accurate, he felt optimistic about the future of politics in California. Ross characterized the result of the 2016 national election as a catalyst for change in statewide political participation.

“I think this was a wake-up call with this administration,” Ross said. “People are going to become a lot more active and involved. Now, they see ‘Hey, this what happens when we stay out of the process.’ ”

Garcia Bedolla, however, said it would be wrong to assume that the Trump administration would cause a shift in California trends, noting that strong party identifiers would become more involved but that moderates would not.

“There was the argument that Latinos would turn out at a higher rate, but if you feel disempowered, that doesn’t make you feel empowered,” Garcia Bedolla said. “It could make you think you need to detach.”

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.