POLITICS
03/08/2017 01:21 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2017

Asians, Latinos Make Up Majority Of California's Population But Have Least Political Influence

“These racial gaps in political participation mean that not all Californians are being heard."
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In California, Asians and Latinos have a disproportionately low level of political sway.

Combined, the two groups make up the majority of the state’s population. However their engagement in the political process, such as contacting public officials or contributing to campaigns, is lower than whites, a recent study on racial disparity says.

But political parties are also less likely to reach out to Latinos and Asians than they are to white people, who retain the most political influence in the state.

Researchers point to a lacking sense of political efficacy as one reason for the underrepresentation of the two minority groups. Both report feeling less empowered or equipped to comprehend politics and the decision making process, the study says. The two groups also had much lower levels of English proficiency compared to whites and blacks who were surveyed. Pacific Islanders, who weren’t categorized with Asians in the study, also had higher levels of proficiency.

“Without robust levels of language assistance at the state and local level, individuals with low English proficiency are less likely to have the requisite information needed to participate in politics, and they are less likely to be mobilized into politics by parties and campaigns,” the report said. 

Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan, a co-author in the study and associate dean of UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy, explained to the Huffington Post that still, the most striking barrier to political participation is the lack of outreach to both immigrants and those born in the U.S.

“These racial gaps in political participation mean that not all Californians are being heard, and this report is an urgent call to change that.”

Asians and Latinos are much less likely to be contacted by political parties ― a particularly significant point as mobilization and outreach can be keys to closing the disparity, the report mentioned.

With a variety of barriers in place, Asians and Latinos voices haven’t been properly elevated. 

“These racial gaps in political participation mean that not all Californians are being heard, and this report is an urgent call to change that,”  Dr. Lisa García Bedolla, a co-author of the study and co-founder of the American Majority Project Research Institute, said in a press release. 

The report, which analyzed rates at which both the general adult and millennial populations engage in a variety of forms of political participation, revealed that Asians and Latinos made up just a quarter to a third of the participating population in most political activities.

Whites are more than twice as likely as Asians and Latinos to contact public officials. And when it comes to campaign contributions, whites unsurprisingly participated at much higher rates as well with donors being “whiter, wealthier, and more educated than the rest of the population,” it explained. However the report also noted that Asians and Latinos still lag behind other minorities including blacks and Pacific Islanders.

“[Community organizations and political parties] need to make far greater investments in minority communities, and they need to make sure that their outreach efforts are not confined to presidential elections.”

 

There are, as researchers mentioned, real consequences to these two factors.

“This is troubling given prior research that shows these forms of participation are the surest paths for constituents to gain access to elected officials and influence policy agendas.” 

Petition signing, another form of political engagement, serves as one of the most popular forms of political activity in the state. Once again, whites are overwhelmingly more likely to participate with a rate of 46 percent. Asians engage at just over half that rate, and Latinos didn’t fare much higher.  

With regard to protest activity, the report notes that prior research suggests marginalized communities are more likely to engage. Yet the recent findings reveal that whites participate with rates on par with Blacks and Latinos. Researchers did note that Asians protested the least often, however Asian sub-groups, like Vietnamese and Hmong Americans, who have lower socio-economic statuses, protest more frequently than those more socio-economically well off. 

Younger generations don’t seem to be closing the racial gap in political participation either. The report explains that the disparities found in the adult population are mirrored in the millennial generation. White millennials made up the majority of youth who reported engaging in political activities. 

The study’s findings parallel new analysis from the Brookings Institution, Bipartisan Policy Center, and Center for American Progress that looked at voter turnout rates in the U.S. as a whole. It stresses that though the U.S. has had a history of disparity in representation, “our country may currently be at peak levels of both overrepresentation and underrepresentation” of whites and minorities respectively. 

It’s up to community organizations and political parties to step up, Ramakrishnan said.

“Governments at all levels—national, state, and local—make worse decisions when they fail to consider the full range of perspectives from their constituents.”

“They need to make far greater investments in minority communities, and they need to make sure that their outreach efforts are not confined to presidential elections,” he explained to HuffPost. “Part of this means hiring people who have the cultural competence, language skills and expertise to do outreach.” 

Ramakrishnan pointed out that it won’t be easy, but with sustained efforts from groups ranging from government to community organizations, he believes the disparity can be overcome. And ultimately, closing the gap won’t just prove beneficial for communities of color ― eliminating racial disparities is crucial for governments to perform well, too. 

“Governments at all levels—national, state, and local—make worse decisions when they fail to consider the full range of perspectives from their constituents,” Ramakrishnan told HuffPost. “Government decisions that lack broad community input also often lack legitimacy in the eyes of constituents.”

 

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