UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute Presents Research to Stakeholders in Washington, D.C.

Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas of the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute (UCLA LPPI) recently presented research about Latino voters in the United States to political campaigners, media stakeholders and advocates meeting in the nation’s capital. During “Majority Makers !Presente!” hosted by TelevisaUnivision at the Washington headquarters of the National Association of Broadcasters, Dominguez-Villegas also previewed the forthcoming U.S. Latino Data Hub. This publicly available web tool will explore Latino well-being across all 50 states in a clear, disaggregated and reliable data platform. “To successfully reach Latino voters, campaign managers and organizers need to understand that there is great dynamism and complexity in the factors that impact Latino voter behavior, and the Latino Data Hub provides a window to understand that diversity and complexity through key indicators like educational attainment, income or health care,” said Dominguez-Villegas, co-director of research for UCLA LPPI. Dominguez-Villegas provided context based on UCLA LPPI research for stakeholders looking to effectively engage with Latinos. He pointed out that political preferences are driven by the rich mosaic of Latino communities and thus more diverse than many assume. Understanding this dynamism is critical in reaching Latino voters, he said. They should be viewed not as monolithic but as a rich and diverse community that has varied, and sometimes rapidly changing, demographic and socioeconomic trends. Another topic of discussion was the deeper level of trust that many Latinos hold for Spanish-language media over other sources. By providing information in Spanish that is culturally and linguistically relevant while addressing issues of importance to Latinos, Spanish-language media can help ensure that Latino voters have the information they need to make informed decisions and meaningfully engage in the political process.

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LPPI in Washington, D.C.

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Alumnae Elevated to Public Office

Caroline Menjivar and Nikki Perez, two members of UCLA Luskin’s Master of Social Welfare Class of 2018, have turned their background in social work into successful bids for public office. Menjivar has been elected to the California State Senate, and Perez will join the Burbank City Council, results from the Nov. 8 election confirmed. The two alumnae will bring a broad range of perspectives into the halls of government. Menjivar, a Marine Corps veteran and the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, will be the first out LGBTQ legislator to represent the San Fernando Valley. She told CalMatters that she plans to use her personal experiences and background as a social worker to advocate for mental health services and housing solutions. While at UCLA Luskin, Menjivar worked in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as a David Bohnett Fellow. Perez was the top vote-getter in the Burbank council race. She told the Burbank Leader, “As the first Indigenous and openly LGBTQ woman elected to council, it’s a tremendous honor to bring a unique perspective and representation to our city government.” A lifelong Burbank resident and graduate of its public schools, Perez said she will be a voice for the city’s underrepresented populations, including renters, working-class families, union members and the Latino community. Since graduating from UCLA Luskin, Perez has worked as a nonprofit program manager and staff member with the California Legislature.


Diaz on Fair Representation and Latino Voting Power

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, spoke to media outlets following the midterm elections, weighing in on issues including fair representation and the impact of the Latino vote at the local, state and national level. A Los Angeles Times article on the reelection of Sen. Alex Padilla emphasized the significance of a Southern Californian in the powerful position after three decades of Bay Area Democrats holding the state’s Senate seats. Diaz noted that Padilla brings greater urgency to issues facing urban communities of color, including immigration and the environment. She was also cited in an L.A. Times column on Latinos’ party preferences and an editorial calling for an increase in the size of the Los Angeles City Council. On KCRW’s “Press Play,” Diaz described the Latino electorate’s alliance with other diverse voting blocs, harkening back to the broad coalition that propelled Barack Obama into the presidency.


On the Complex Dynamics of the Latino Vote

The Boston Globe highlighted findings from a UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (LPPI) report that identified the complex dynamics of the Latino vote in the 2020 elections, with lessons for campaign strategists in this fall’s midterm elections. Latino voters are the new swing voters, but the Democratic Party seems to be in denial about this insight, the Globe columnist wrote. Researchers found that Latino voters split their ballot at a significant rate in 2020. “They are convincible, you can go out and reach out to them, and they’ll think about their vote carefully,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, LPPI’s director of research. “They will eventually make a decision based on what resonates the most with them, but also on who engages them the most.” Dominguez-Villegas said some Democratic campaigns still use an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach to Latino engagement without recognizing inherent differences between, say, voters of Venezuelan descent and second-generation Mexican-Americans.


Manville on Urban Design Impact of Caruso Properties

A Los Angeles Times article on the origins of developer Rick Caruso’s real estate empire included comments by Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning. Caruso, who is running to become Los Angeles’ next mayor, has deployed his political instincts, force of personality and sizable resources to sway constituencies to support high-end shopping centers and residences, the article noted. Manville spoke about malls such as the Grove and Americana at Brand, manicured outdoor centers where visitors are enticed to hang out. From the inside,“this is a very nice urban environment, but from the outside, it’s not,” he said. “They’re often surrounded by vast quantities of parking, and that is bad urban planning in many ways.” Manville asked, “What would a Mayor Rick Caruso bring to the public realm? Would he bring what he has tried to do within his properties, or would he bring what his properties suggest to the city from the outside?”

Yaroslavsky on Inflation’s Fallout on Local Elections

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KPCC’s “AirTalk” about the impact of Southern California’s widening economic gap on upcoming elections. Yaroslavsky cited results of the 2022 UCLA Quality of Life Index, which found a steep drop in residents’ satisfaction with life in L.A. County, largely due to concerns over inflation and public safety. “What stands out is that people are unhappy, they’re anxious, they’re angry, they’re concerned,” Yaroslavsky said. Lower-income households, hard hit by lost wages and rising inflation, have been slower to rebound from the financial shock of the COVID-19 era, the survey showed. “We are the ground zero in this country of the economic divide,” Yaroslavsky said. The Quality of Life Index also showed a decline in approval ratings of many local government officials. “Inflation, I think, is the most pernicious thing economically that we have in our society,” Yaroslavsky said. “That will have a political bite like nothing else.”

Yaroslavsky on Shifts in the L.A. Mayor’s Race

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to CBSLA News about a new poll showing Rick Caruso and Karen Bass leading the pack in the contest to become Los Angeles’ next mayor. After an early media blitz, Caruso’s poll numbers have tripled, with 24% of respondents expressing their support, just ahead of Bass’ 23%. Yaroslavsky said the trajectory of the race will shift as other candidates step up their marketing campaigns. “Karen Bass hasn’t been on television at all. Kevin de León can’t be discounted, hasn’t been on television at all. … So, it will change, I’m sure, in the weeks ahead,” he said. The race also stands to tighten as undecided voters make their choices as the June 7 primary nears, he said. “Most people don’t know all that they want to know about the candidates. Forty percent don’t know enough to make a decision at this point or they are withholding their judgment until they hear more.” 

Gilens on Efforts to Undercut American Democracy

Public Policy Chair Martin Gilens joined a Scholars’ Circle panel weighing threats to American democracy and prescriptions for reinvigorating democratic norms. Recent efforts to overturn elections and restrict voting rights are rooted in a long-standing lack of government responsiveness to the needs of ordinary citizens, said Gilens, noting that the nation’s elite is responsible for the latest attacks on democratic practices. “It doesn’t take a majority of the public to abandon democracy, for our institutions to be eroded or our electoral processes to be undermined,” he said. “It only takes a willingness of people to look the other way.” Gilens likened the current political atmosphere to the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th Century, a period of gaping economic inequality and dysfunctional government. Political and economic reforms were enacted, but only after decades of effort at the local, state and national levels. “The change did come, but it didn’t come quickly or easily,” he said.


Tackling Voter Dilution in California UCLA Voting Rights Project fights to ensure equitable representation in Orange and Yolo counties

By Jose Garcia

As counties across California finalize new electoral boundaries in a once-in-a-decade process known as redistricting, the UCLA Voting Rights Project (VRP) is successfully providing guidance to decision-makers to ensure full compliance with federal and state laws.

California has experienced rapid demographic changes, such as Latinos becoming the largest ethnic majority in the state, and county boards get one shot to draw fair and equitable district maps for the next decade. In the past, California has seen patterns of voter dilution that many wish to see corrected.

The Voting Rights Project, the flagship project of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), is placing direct pressure on decision-makers through high-level analysis of district maps and leveraging of local media, with the goal of ensuring that equitably drawn maps are implemented.

In Orange County, a region that is 34% Latino, the county Board of Supervisors has not seen Latino representation in over 15 years. This is largely attributed to the way district boundaries have been drawn in the past.

In response, the Voting Rights Project published a report analyzing proposed maps for the county’s supervisorial districts and detailed the steps needed to ensure full compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.

“Several of the proposed maps, while appearing to be compliant, did not actually meet requirements to give areas with a high percentage of people of color a chance of electing a representative from their community,” said Sonni Waknin, voting rights counsel for the VRP.

Some of the proposed maps ensured that Latinos were less able to elect candidates of their choice by “cracking,” or splitting, adjacent cities with ethnic majorities, such as Santa Ana and Anaheim, according to Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The Voting Rights Project urged the Orange County Board of Supervisors to implement specific boundary changes that would create the county’s first majority-Latino supervisorial district — which the board subsequently adopted in a historic vote.

“We are incredibly proud to have ensured that Orange County recognized the need for Latinos to elect candidates of their choice, as required by the federal Voting Rights Act,” Waknin said.

Her team harnessed the success in Orange County and began deploying similar strategies across the state throughout the fall of 2021.

Yolo County, a region at high risk of voter dilution under proposed district boundaries, was a priority. While voters had been able to elect a Latino candidate under existing maps, the margin of victory was narrow, considering that Latinos accounted for 69% of the county’s total population growth over the last 10 years.

As it did in Orange County, Waknin’s team analyzed proposed maps and demographics in Yolo County and found that several plans under consideration would crack the Latino population of existing districts and lower the Latino voting-age population below thresholds required by the Voting Rights Act.

A VRP memo sent to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors argued that three of the four originally proposed maps would absolutely dilute the power of Latino voters. Following the memo and a coordinated media strategy, the supervisors unanimously voted to adopt district borders closely resembling the VRP’s recommendations.

“Latino communities have driven the growth of California for the past decade,” Waknin said. “Their political voice must be heard at every level, including local governments.”

At the local level, cities and counties use new census data to redraw district lines to reflect changes in their populations. California’s congressional districts are redrawn every decade by an independent commission of citizens from across the state.

Currently, over half of the U.S. has finished the redistricting process, and many of the approved maps will ultimately undercut communities of color, according to Waknin. Her team is continuing its involvement in places facing potential voter dilution outside of California, including in key states such as Texas and Washington.

“Through this work, the UCLA Voting Rights Project is playing a critical role in protecting the integrity of the state’s and nation’s democracy,” Diaz said. “The project is fundamentally influencing how political boundaries are redrawn to create an equitable electoral system for all.”


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