PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · December 5, 2002

Majority-Minority Twist: Whites May Dominate State’s Voting Population Well After They Lose Status As Largest Group

Socioeconomic Factors Influence Black and Latino Turnout But Don't Explain Low Asian Turnout

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 5, 2002 – Forty years from now, whites will no longer be the largest racial group in California, but they may still dominate the electoral process, according to a new study released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Exceptionally low political participation rates among other racial and ethnic groups – driven by a host of factors from income and education to citizenship rates and culture – suggest that the current imbalance between the general and voting populations will persist in the future.

Between 1990 and 2000, white voter turnout was about 10 percentage points higher than African American turnout, and about 18 percentage points higher than Latino and Asian turnout. The analysis finds that lower participation levels among Latinos and African Americans can be explained almost entirely by lower income and education levels (citizenship is also a factor for Latinos – see below). In fact, the study estimates that if Latinos and African Americans had the same income and the same amount of education as whites, there would be very little difference between the three groups in terms of their participation in the electoral process.

Do the same issues influence Asian participation? When education and income are held equal, Asian turnout still trails that of whites by 20 percentage points, according to the study. “The lack of Asian participation may be rooted in cultural norms or beliefs about the value of voting – rather than the lack of resources that hinders Latino and African American voting,” says Jack Citrin, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, who co-authored the study with Benjamin Highton, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Davis.

There are, however, notable exceptions to this trend when examining Asian subgroups, according to the authors. Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants have greater turnout levels, which is most likely related to their higher rates of citizenship (both about 63%). Citizenship rates among other Asian groups are substantially lower: Chinese (49%), Korean (40%), Indian (34%), and Japanese (27%).

Low citizenship rates also contribute to non-participation among Latinos. Latinos currently make up 26 percent of the adult population in California but only 18 percent of the adult citizen population. “In the future, Latinos will outnumber all other ethnic groups, and Asians will make up a significantly larger proportion of the population than they do now,” says Highton. “If their citizenship rates and voting participation don’t rise, they will continue to be underrepresented.” The potential electoral imbalance is striking: If current trends hold, in 2040 Latinos will represent 42 percent of the adult population but only 26 percent of the electorate, while whites will constitute 35 percent of the population but 53 percent of voters.

The authors suggest that a number of strategies, including facilitating the citizenship application process, mobilizing voters during specific elections, and providing civic education about America’s electoral system through ethnically-based community organizations, will be necessary to address the varied motivations behind non-participation. The study, How Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration Shape the California Electorate, draws on United States Census data from six November elections between 1990 and 2000.