SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 13, 2001 – Voter turnout among California’s Latino and black communities is far higher in majority-minority congressional districts – many created as a result of redistricting in 1991 – than in majority-white districts, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). The findings reveal that the type of districts created through reapportionment can have a profound effect on political participation among the state’s racial and ethnic communities.
The study, “The Effect of Minority Districts and Minority Representation on Political Participation in California,” is the first to provide empirical evidence in the debate over whether or not creating majority-minority districts leads to greater participation in the political process by minority groups. Drawing on census data and voting statistics from the November 1994 congressional elections, political scientist Claudine Gay compared turnout rates in California’s 13 majority-minority congressional districts with those in majority-white districts. She found that Latino and black voter participation is highest in congressional districts where they are able to play prominent roles in deciding political outcomes, while white voter participation did not suffer in districts where whites were a minority. (Asians were not included in the analysis because of data constraints.)
Specifically, the report found that in California’s six majority-Latino congressional districts, Latino registered voter turnout was 33 percentage points higher than Latino turnout in majority-white districts. In districts where Latinos and blacks were more evenly matched, Latino turnout was 30 percentage points above rates in mostly white districts. And in multi-ethnic districts where Latinos play a more limited role, turnout was still 7 percentage points higher than in majority-white districts. Gay notes that turnout among Latinos was particularly high in districts with Latino representatives as well as Latino majorities.
Black turnout was highest in districts where they and Latinos were equally matched and together formed the majority of the voting-age population. On average, black voting-age turnout in such districts was almost 7 percentage points higher than black turnout in majority-white districts. In districts where blacks were one part of a more diverse multi-ethnic mix, turnout rates among the black voting-age population were almost 4 percentage points higher than rates in majority-white districts. However, black turnout was lowest wherever a single non-black community of any race or ethnicity dominated the congressional election; participation was marginally lower when this dominant community was Latino rather than white.
“Race-conscious redistricting can play an important role in increasing election turnout, especially among Latinos,” says Gay, PPIC adjunct fellow and assistant professor of political science at Stanford University. “But it’s a delicate balance and not every model works equally well for all groups.”
As a result, the study’s findings have important implications for the current redistricting process in Sacramento, especially as lawmakers work to balance competing goals and comply with sections of the Voting Rights Act that aim to give racial and ethnic minorities a greater voice in the political process. First, creating new majority-minority congressional districts is likely to increase political participation in the state’s Latino and African American communities. In particular, the creation of such districts can overcome socioeconomic barriers – such as education and income – that often contribute to low voter participation in minority communities.
Second, mapmakers should note that turnout among minority voters is highest wherever they are able to exert political leverage, rather than being marginalized by the dominance of another group. This evidence suggests that there may be some advantage to creating more Latino-black and multi-ethnic districts in the current redistricting round. “These districts would allow for multiple racial and ethnic communities to have real political influence – a key to increased turnout – without diminishing white voter participation,” says Gay. “Ultimately, this may help create an electorate that more accurately reflects the state’s racial and ethnic diversity.”
PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. David W. Lyon is President and CEO of PPIC.