Minorities becoming a potent voting force as whites decline in California

Over the past decade, the Golden State has experienced significant growth in the number of its minority residents.  Led by Hispanics, minorities now comprise about three out of every five Californians.

     “The state’s Hispanic population grew by more than a quarter in the last decade, and Latinos now make up 38% of the state, which nearly passes non-Hispanic whites, who make up 40% of the population. More than half of Californians younger than 18 are Latino. The political and policy ramifications of the rapid demographic shift in the nation’s largest state are huge,” said a report from National Journal that cited census data released earlier this week.

As most of the nation experienced a Tea Party-driven Republican revival in 2010, National Journal said that California remained a Democratic stronghold, largely due to its growing minority population. The publication notes that both Jerry Brown (D) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) won by double digits, aided by a sizeable Latino voter turnout.  Statewide, 34 Democratic House members were re-elected in California’s congressional districts.

According to America’s Voice, one of the advocacy groups that has pushed for immigration reform measures like the Dream Act and for even broader reform, Latinos represent 21.1 percent of the California electorate, which makes the demographic a critical bloc to keep in mind in 2012.

While Latinos are the largest minority in California and saw a 28% growth rate in the state to 14 million, census figures also revealed that the Asian population saw an even larger 31% growth rate over the past decade, and now populate the state with 4.8 million residents. Asian voters favored Governor Jerry Brown by 60% in the last gubernatorial election compared to 39% who supported Republican opponent Meg Whitman. By extension, Asian voters also supported Barbara Boxer by 59% to Carly Fiorina’s 39%.

There is yet even a third rapidly growing minority in California that the Associated Press notes: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the third-fastest growing ethnic population in the state. The Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander population grew 23.4% in the past decade in the Golden State. While they are the third-fastest growing minority in California, they account for merely 0.4% of the state’s population, according to census figures cited in the AP’s report.

Results are rather different for California’s white population. Within this same ten year period, as the Los Angeles Times notes, non-Hispanic whites dropped 5.4% to under 15 million. The drop in the white population confirms a 2009 field poll, which indicated a similar trend.

As California becomes a melting pot of minorities, it may seem like it’s increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold and an ever more unfriendly environment for Republicans (who historically haven’t done so well with minorities in the past decade).  National Journal points out some important factors related to the impact of minorities in California elections. 

First, with a bipartisan commission set to draw congressional district lines in the future, elections can all of a sudden become competitive. This is certainly a novel concept in a state where many running for office have been safe in their seat for a number of years. In some districts, depending on how the lines are drawn by the commission, it’s possible that the new procedure can affect the impact that some minorities have in their communities. In some cases, their party-line influence could be diminished. This has yet to be played out, however. 

Second, there’s the factor of the top-two open primary approved by the state’s voters, which might force candidates to run against moderates in their own party. How this will play out with minority voters has yet to be determined. Given that minorities are the new majority in California, this new majority will play an important factor in determining which candidates will emerge from the top-two open primary.  

One certainty out of all this is that California’s growing minority population will play an increasing role in the future of the state’s policies.