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Report Documents Latino Demographics and Voting Behavior in California

by Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs
posted November 4, 1998

A new report on Latino demographics and voting behavior in California shows a dramatic increase in the number of Latino citizens in the 1990s and a consequent growth in the political power the population wields.

The 218-page report is the second edition of the California Latino Demographic Databook, originally published in 1993. The new edition gives the first detailed picture of the California Latino population in five years.

The report was published by the university's California Policy Seminar, with funding from the University of California's Latino Policy Research Program and its Institute for Mexico and the United States. It was authored by researchers from the UC DATA project of the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center.

The group includes UC Berkeley graduate student researcher Jon Stiles and data archivist Frederic C. Gey.

The report documents the size, growth and distribution of California's Latino population; age, sex and household characteristics; and language, education, employment and income patterns.

Tables and figures compare Hispanics by national origin, birthplace, time of immigration and citizenship. Contrasting data for non-Hispanic whites, African Americans and Asian populations in California are also presented.

The report found the percentage of Californians who are Hispanic quadrupled between 1950 and 1990.

It says this population will compose more than 30 percent of the state's population by early in the next century.

For the first time, the report also includes a section that tabulates rates of Latino political participation and citizenship.

It shows the Latino portion of adult citizens in the state -- the population eligible to vote -- jumped 10.1 percent from 1980 to 1996. The number of Latinos who actually took advantage of their voting privileges increased from 6.6 percent in 1980 to 11.5 percent in 1994.

Andres Jimenez, director of the California Policy Seminar, said that, ironically, the rise of anti-immigrant policies in the '90s has driven the Latino population toward political empowerment.

"Faced with anti-immigrant sentiment and denial of social services to legal immigrants, the community responded with the ability to be more politically powerful," said Jimenez.

After becoming citizens and registering to vote, "Latinos vote at essentially the same rates as whites, 83.1 percent and 84.7 percent respectively, and more than either blacks, 76.5 percent, or Asians, 79.5 percent," the report said.

The increased number of Latino voters in the state means that for the upcoming election, "the Latino vote is becoming a swing vote in statewide elections," said Jimenez.

"Candidates could be hurt who are in any way identified with anti-Latino politics," he said.

He said this doesn't just mean Republicans, who are well aware their party offended some Latino voters with "187-style politics" in previous elections, but also candidates such as Barbara Boxer. She likely damaged her relationship with Latino voters when she supported bringing the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, he said.

Other issues Latinos will help decide center on education, said Jimenez.

"Latinos are very supportive of investments in education," he said. "Their school population is large and growing, and they mainly attend public schools."

He said the California electorate had turned away from education in the '70s, but Latinos are helping to reverse this trend.

For the future, Jimenez expects the number of Latino citizens to continue to rise.

"People who are from neighboring countries traditionally have very low naturalization rates," said Jimenez. "The proximity of the country of origin is a disincentive, and before the 1990s, there were very few incentives to encourage citizenship. But this changed when the state restricted the eligibility of legal immigrants for social services.

"A population that had been reluctant to naturalize is now naturalizing," he said.

Report statistics were drawn from U.S. census records, the Annual Demographic Files and Voter Supplements of the Current Population Survey, the 1987 and 1992 economic censuses, the California Basic Educational Data System, California Department of Health Services vital statistics, Immigration and Naturalization Service records, and voter registration lists.


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