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Press Release · April 21, 2004

In The Political Driver’s Seat: Whites Dominate Beyond Ballot Box

White Residents Overrepresented in Nearly Every Type of Political Activity in State

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 21, 2004 — It’s no news that white residents vote at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups in California. What’s not well-known is that whites are also more involved in nearly every other kind of political and civic activity. If this trend persists, whites will continue to have much greater influence over the state’s political and civic life than their share of the population warrants, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The Ties That Bind: Changing Demographics and Civic Engagement in California is the first study to look at different groups’ political activities besides voting—contributing money to candidates, signing petitions, writing to officials, attending meetings and rallies, and working for political campaigns. Whites are substantially overrepresented at both the ballot box and in these other kinds of activity, while Latinos, Asians, and blacks are underrepresented, given their proportion of the population.

Some prime examples? More whites contribute to political campaigns and candidates: 26 percent compared to 10 percent of Latinos, 17 percent of Asians, and 20 percent of blacks. Sizable differences are also found for volunteerism: 30 percent of whites volunteer regularly compared to 16 percent of Asians, 17 percent of Latinos, and 24 percent of blacks. These disparities are consistent with voting behavior: 60 percent of whites vote regularly, far outnumbering Latinos (38%) and Asians (39%), and somewhat surpassing blacks (54%). Only in attending meetings on local issues do Latinos (43%) and blacks (44%) participate more than whites (37%). Asians (34%) are least likely to attend local meetings.

Lopsided racial and ethnic participation in political life and volunteerism may be most troubling for California because of the state’s rapidly changing demographic make-up. “As the state’s nonwhite population continues to grow, lack of participation among these groups, especially immigrants and their descendants, could result in a less representative government,” says PPIC research fellow Karthick Ramakrishnan, who co-authored the study with PPIC research director Mark Baldassare. “If current participation and population trends hold, the interests of fewer and fewer citizens will likely shape state and local policies,” he says.

The analysis also finds that first-generation immigrants are a potentially powerful – and untapped – resource for civic involvement because of their strong interest in volunteering. Another hopeful indicator: The study identifies a significant increase in voting across immigrant generations; only 44 percent of first-generation immigrants vote regularly, compared to 57 percent of the third-generation descendants.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.