California constitutes one of the most diverse states in the United States. Here is how the Census estimates its population composition:
|California’s Ethnic Composition|
(Note that the numbers do not add up to 100, due to the way the Census tracks ethnicity.)
The people who actually vote in California, however, do not reflect this composition.
California’s electorate in the 2008 presidential election is quite different from its actual ethnic composition:
|2008 Electorate: Exit Polls|
These numbers were taken from exit polls – and one should be warned that exit polls are very, very inaccurate. The numbers above should not be taken for the truth, but rather as a rough approximation of it.
Nevertheless, one can take something out of the exit polls: blacks and whites punched far above their demographic weight, while Asians and Hispanics punched far below theirs. This pattern isn’t so much a racial one as much as an immigrant versus non-immigrant one.
Since blacks and whites are mainly non-immigrant communities, they vote more often than immigrant communities. Blacks and whites thus are overrepresented in the electorate. There was little racial divide between black and white turn-out, which is quite remarkable, given the lower socioeconomic status of blacks. All in all the percentage of California’s 2008 electorate was about 50% more black and white than California’s overall population.
Hispanics are the ones hurt most by this. The difference between the Hispanic portion of the electorate and the Hispanic portion of the overall population is quite striking: the electorate is just half as Hispanic as the population. Most of this is attributable to the legal status of many Hispanic immigrants, the relative youth of the Hispanic population, the lower socioeconomic status of Hispanics, and the immigrant-heavy nature Hispanic community (this is different from the first factor in that immigrants are inherently less likely to vote even if they are citizens).
It is not Hispanics, however, who are least likely to vote: it is Asians. There are several similarities and differences between the two groups. Unlike Hispanics, the Asian population is not skewed downwards, and Asians generally have a high socioeconomic status. On the other hand, Asians are much more of an immigrant community than Hispanics: a remarkable four out of five adult Asians in California constituted immigrants, according to a 2002 study. Only 59% of adult Asians were citizens (who can vote), according to the study.
The low voting rates of Hispanics and Asians naturally reduce their political power. Hispanics, at around one-fifth of the California electorate, are influential – but imagine how much more influential the Hispanic vote would be if they voted their numbers. As for Asians, their low turn-out makes their community almost a non-factor in California politics.
This will probably change, of course. A century ago one could have written the exact same words about another immigrant-heavy group that did not vote: Irish-Americans.