Is 2012 the year that California’s ethnic electorate becomes the decider in the state’s future? And If so, what will that mean for hot-button issues like tax measures, criminal justice reform, the environment and healthcare?
These issues - and more - were addressed in detail during “Covering California’s 2012 Elections,” a recent media training symposium produced by New America Media aimed at ethnic media outlets. According to NAM founder/executive director Sandy Close, ethnic voters “are the make or break in 2012’s elections.”
That’s largely because for the past 24 years, California’s political trend has been more ethnic, more diverse and more progressive, for the most part, pollster supreme Mark DiCamillo said.
DiCamillo, who is with the Field Poll, presented slides, which illustrated how ever since the 1988 election, California has skewed Democratic in its presidential choices. That shift, statistics suggest, is almost entirely attributable to the growing influence - and population numbers - of the Latino electorate. The wedge resulting from the Latino effect currently represents a double-digit chasm.
This gap, DiCamillo explained, is why Republican presidential candidates rarely if ever focus their efforts on California – and why President Obama is likely to win the state. An Obama victory, he said, could fuel a progressive surge led by the state’s ethnic voters for other ballot measures and Democratic candidates.
DiCamillo went on to outline the major political issues for California in 2012, a list topped by the possibility that, due to redistricting, more Congressional seats than normal - as many as four to six - could be in play, which could have national implications if those seats are won by Democrats.
Additionally, three new tax measures, possible referendums on the death penalty and the three strikes laws and various environmental issues could all go before the voters this November – choices which could shape the state’s future in no uncertain terms.
The importance of the ethnic vote, for example, is evident when looking at the death penalty, which is opposed by high percentages of African Americans and Latinos.
“The perception is that the death penalty is applied more to ethnic criminals,” DiCamillo said, explaining that ethnic voters’ poll numbers tend to reflect this personal stake in the issue.
DiCamillo was followed by expert criminologist and University of California, Berkeley, law professor Dr. Barry Krisberg, who discussed the interesting economic direction resulting from the realignment of California’s prison system, which is linked to tax measures.
“If you spend money on criminal justice, that means you don’t spend it on healthcare, home care and education,” Krisberg said.
One eye-opening moment for many in attendance came when Krisberg noted that while crime is a bread-and-butter political topic, frequently referenced by conservative candidates, in actuality, “crime rates in California are lower than when Eisenhower was president.”
This prompted Close to add, “Crime, frankly, like immigration, has been a hugely polarizing issue.” Meanwhile, Krisberg noted the “gross racial disparity” of the criminal justice system.
Other panelists included social justice activist Jakada Imani, tax specialist Lenny Goldberg, policy researcher Pamela Heisy, reporter Aaron Glantz, ethnic law advocate Chris Punongbayan, environmentalist Julie Christian-Smith and PR veteran Don Solem, who discussed everything from the impact of ethnic voters on climate change to how to track campaign contributions to the extent with which the Occupy message has resonated with the general public.
One reason for that, Punongbayan said, is the reality of the white middle-class “catching up to where people of color have been at” economically, due to foreclosures, unemployment and other factors historically associated with ethnic minorities. Whether that will be a compelling enough reason to usher in the “millionaires tax” or other reform measures which speak to the 99 percent/1 percent Occupy meme, however, remains to be seen.