Diversity May Decide Primaries

This story was written by Tessa McClellan, Daily Bruin
As both the presidential candidates and voters anticipate the Feb. 5 California primary, many are wondering which demographics will sway the vote the most.

Though Martin Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside, said at this point much of the coverage about key voting demographics is speculation, he also said the Latino population could be critical in California.

Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science at UC Irvine, expressed the same idea: "Hispanics are the most rapidly growing electorate in the state, and their voice will be prominently heard in the Democratic primary."

Hispanics will have less influence in the Republican race, he added, because only about 10 percent vote Republican.

Roberto S. Oregel, a documentary filmmaker who is involved with UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center, said the recent debates about immigration have resulted in a marked increase in the political activity of California's large Latino population.

"They've been saying for years that the Latino culture will wake up," Oregel said. "It's woken up. There is an urgency to participate in political debate and in the political arena."

The potential influence of the Latino vote is affecting the political campaigns and resulting in more attention being paid to the community than in past presidential elections, DeSipio said.

Both Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., have invested in Spanish-language advertising.

Clinton obtained endorsements early in her campaign from many key Latino politicians in California, such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, DeSipio said.

"(People are starting to ask), 'Will the sort of loyalty showed to Clinton by Hispanics in Nevada remain in California?'" he said.

Demographics based on factors other than ethnicity could be influential as well, DeSipio said. He added that he expects to see a higher turnout of youth voters.

In particular, DeSipio said, he believes more of the Latino and black youth will be mobilized to participate in the upcoming election.

"I expect to see disproportionate voter turnout in young African American voters because of the new opportunity to support both a candidate who is both African American and closer to their political beliefs than candidates usually are," DeSipio said.

Blacks will probably be less influential in California than in states such as South Carolina because they comprise a smaller percentage of the state, Johnson said.

But, he said he felt black women will be one of the most interesting demographics to watch in the 2008 election.

"African American women are fascinating because they are cross-pressured," he said. "If all they know is that Clinton is a woman and Obama is an African American, who do they vote for?"

Despite hype surrounding the possibility of the first female or black president, Johnson said he thinks both candidates have tried to appeal to voters from all demographics, rather than focusing on their own demographics.

Evaluating important voting blocs in the Republican race is slightly more complicated, Johnson said, because of the dynamic between the candidates and their performances in the completed primaries.

"They are a fairly standard set of politicians," he said. "There's no sense of necessarily who is the woman or minority candidate (in the Republican race)."

DeSipio said that though the active-duty military and veterans traditionally have not exhibited high voter turnout, the importance of the national security issue could cause them to sway the Republican race in favor of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1967 to 1973.

"That electorate couldplay an important role if the race is close in ensuring that Sen. McCain wins," he said.

Though the Asian American population is not receiving as much attention as the other demographics, it could also be influential, said Don T. Nakanishi, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

"They are an electorate that keeps increasing in numbers and percent of registered voters in California," Nakanishi said.

Asian Americans make up about 13 percent to 14 percent of California's population and 7 percent to 10 percent of the electorate.

Traditionally, the Asian American electorate has been equally split between Republicans, Democrats and Independents, Nakanishi said. But, party affiliation is becoming less important as voters are increasingly taking into account candidates' positions about issues such as the relations between the United States and many Asian countries.

Though people tend to overlook the non-Hispanic white population because they have been around for a long time and tend to vote predictably, it could play a big role because of its size, said DeSipio.

Though the true influence of each of these demographics will not be known until the completion of the primaries, Johnson said he expects to hear even more discussion of voter demographics as the race moves on.
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE