Following the California midterm elections, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky appeared on several media outlets to offer insight into the state’s shifting political landscape. In an interview with TV station KCAL 9, Yaroslavsky said Gov. Gavin Newsom is “probably going to inherit a downturn of the economy” but he expressed support for Newsom’s economic philosophy “[not to] undertake programs in the good years that you can’t sustain in the lean years.” He said the new governor has a “good track record and experience to play the role he needs to play to keep the state in line” in the face of a legislature that wants to spend and a Trump administration that is “trying to undo … virtually everything that California has been a trailblazer in.” Yaroslavsky also spoke with Fox News about the state’s Democratic supermajority. “Republicans are politically less relevant in California than they have been in years, and it is really up to the Democrats to decide what role they play,” he said. “As long as Democrats stay unified, they won’t even need bipartisan support.” In a CNBC story on the legacy of Jerry Brown, Yaroslavsky spoke about the state’s rebound after the four-term governor cut programs and services to restore fiscal stability. “[Brown] made some very tough decisions to bring California from the precipice of fiscal demise,” Yaroslavsky said. “The last four years were maybe a little easier because the economy did finally turn around and he was able to build the state back up.”
As results rolled in from the November 2018 midterm elections, a team of researchers from the Latino Politics and Policy Initiative (LPPI) provided real-time analysis to assess how the country’s fastest-growing voting bloc impacted the outcome of major contests. Among other findings, the UCLA Luskin-based LPPI reported that Latino voter participation saw a striking increase compared to the 2014 midterms. LPPI followed up with a report detailing its analysis of election results in six states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Texas. A forum co-hosted by LPPI and the Aspen Institute Latinos in Society Program delved into the results before a crowd of 175 people, as well as a live stream audience. And LPPI experts were widely cited in election coverage by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NPR, NBC News and many other outlets.
By Les Dunseith
As the days passed after the Nov. 6, 2018, elections and vote tallies across the United States were finalized, it became increasingly clear that voters had turned out in record numbers for a midterm election cycle. It also became evident that Latino voters played a pivotal role in many races.
Tom Perez, the first Latino to serve as chair of the Democratic National Committee, told an audience of about 175 people that gathered Nov. 14 at the Japanese American National Museum for a panel discussion of the midterm elections that his party’s get-out-the-vote effort targeted many populations that have been historically hard to motivate in large numbers, including Latinos.
“The number of folks who turned out this year who were first-time voters was a remarkable phenomenon.”
— Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee
“The number of folks who turned out this year who were first-time voters was a remarkable phenomenon,” Perez said during the event co-hosted by UCLA Luskin-based Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) and the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program.
Perez was joined by three other experts on the U.S. Latino electorate during a wide-ranging discussion about the outcome of key 2018 races and what it means for the future of Congress and the 2020 presidential election.
Although turnout was higher than in most midterm elections, the proportion of eligible Latino voters who cast ballots was not as high as it could be. Even so, Perez is focusing on carrying the increased voter engagement of 2018 into future elections.
“I mean, you look at turnout and I think it was up 174 percent in 2018,” he said. “Can we do more? Absolutely. There’s no doubt that there are votes that are left on the table.”
The panel discussion coincided with the release of a new report by LPPI that analyzed 2018 midterm results in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Texas — states with large Latino populations.
“It’s not about this election. It’s not about the next election. It’s about constantly being present in the Latino community and organizing to get people involved.”
— Matt Barreto, faculty co-director of LPPI
The report found a significant increase in Latino ballots cast, said panelist Matt Barreto, faculty co-director of LPPI and professor of political science and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA.
“We can observe that here in California about 40 percent of majority Latino precincts in Southern California had over a 70 percent increase. For non-Latino precincts, it was only 20 percent, so it was twice as high in the Latino community,” Barreto noted about the difference in voter turnout in 2018 as compared to 2014.
On the Republican side, Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative, said campaign strategists for the GOP missed opportunities to connect with the Latino electorate on many issues by continuing to focus on the divisive rhetoric that has marked much of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“Donald Trump never shaped my values or my conservative views. I am pro-life. I believe in a limited government. Less regulation,” Garza continued. “But [Republicans] weren’t connecting on those issues as well as they should.”
Even though the midterm results generally favored his party, Perez said it is unwise to view any demographic group as a monolithic entity that will always vote a particular way.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that civil rights is about inclusion. It’s about making sure everyone has a seat at the table,” Perez said. “Demographics are never definitive. You need to show up. You need to build relationships. You need to listen. You need to be responsive. And the reason we were successful is that we responded when we heard from folks, ‘I want a better life for my kids.’”
The panelists also talked about voter suppression and how policymakers could make it easier for citizens to cast their ballots. A key point of discussion was the fact that national campaign strategies often focus on likely voters at the expense of people who vote less often, which includes many Latinos.
Barreto noted that a Latino voter tracking poll asked respondents whether they had been contacted by a campaign. Initially, the rate of contact among Latinos was 40 percent. By Election Day, 53 percent of Latinos in the battleground congressional districts said that they had been contacted — a higher rate for Latinos than for whites in those districts.
Even though 53 percent is historically high, “what’s frustrating is that there are still millions of people who didn’t receive any contact at all,” Barreto said.
Also on the panel was Democrat Tatiana Matta, whose bid to unseat GOP incumbent Kevin McCarthy in U.S. House District 32 was unsuccessful. She spoke about some of the challenges she faced to reach potential supporters in her district in the Central Valley of California.
“A lot of [my] connections were made as a Latino, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity. But we have to work for it.” — Tatiana Matta, on the challenge to reach supporters in her bid for a congressional seat
“My district is very rural. So to get from one home to another home, you have to get in your car,” Matta explained. “So you have to physically take volunteers or canvassers to those communities and push those resources out. If not, you’re not going to reach them.”
To reach Latino voters in many areas, candidates must be comfortable speaking Spanish.
“A lot of [my] connections were made as a Latino, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity,” she said. “But we have to work for it.”
Garza expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s hard to get ahold of people,” he said. In Nevada, for example, Garza said that when his organization’s campaign workers made calls or canvassed, people were often unavailable. “So it’s hard work, too. It’s not because of indifference.”
Barreto interjected. “I think it’s entirely because of indifference,” he said bluntly. “When campaigns look at the voter file and someone doesn’t have a vote history, they just put them in another bucket. They don’t say, ‘How hard are you to contact?’ They just don’t contact them. So we have to change that cycle.”
Barreto told the crowd, which included many people who had participated in Latino voter registration and outreach efforts, that the 2018 midterm elections are just one step in a long process.
“It’s not about this election. It’s not about the next election,” Barreto said of the long-term political importance of the growing Latino population in America. “It’s about constantly being present in the Latino community and organizing to get people involved. And at some point that will pay off for whichever side wants to take advantage of our voters.”
Learn more about the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative.
More information about the Aspen Institute and its Latinos and Society Program is available on social media via @AspenLatinos.
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Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with CNBC about challenges facing Gavin Newsom, the next governor of California. Newsom inherits a booming economy and looks to steer the state in an increasingly progressive direction, with focuses on gun control, a single-payer healthcare system and affordable housing. His liberal-oriented ideologies put him in opposition to President Trump, who endorsed Newsom’s opponent, John Cox. Yaroslavsky, a former L.A. County supervisor, advised Newsom to focus on policy rather than constantly sparring with the president. “He’s going to have to take care of business in California and pick and choose his fights with Trump,” Yaroslavsky said. “In my opinion, you can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a knee-jerk opponent of Trump on every single issue because people start to treat you as the usual suspect — and they don’t take you seriously anymore. I think he knows it.”
Founding director of Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) Sonja Diaz was recently featured on KPCC’s “Air Talk” to discuss the ongoing results of the 2018 midterm elections. As provisional, conditional and vote-by-mail ballots were being counted, Diaz analyzed the increase in the Latino vote compared to 2014 midterm elections. Diaz’s research through the UCLA Luskin-affiliated LPPI found that, while Los Angeles County experienced a 52% increase in ballots cast overall, precincts where Latinos constituted 75% or more of registered voters yielded a “77% increase in the number of ballots cast.” Diaz also acknowledged the impact of Latino voters on the success of Spanish surname candidates like Kevin De Leon running for statewide election. Diaz also cited results from Texas’ Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, noting that “exit polls do not capture minority voters as accurately as more traditional or white voters.”
Public Policy lecturer Jorja Leap was featured in a Los Angeles Daily News article discussing factors contributing to the unexpectedly tight race for Los Angeles County sheriff. While incumbent sheriffs are traditionally successful at winning re-election, the 2018 midterm elections marked a notable shift, with retired lieutenant Alex Villanueva currently in the lead. Although opponent and incumbent sheriff Jim McDonnell is higher ranked, has more experience and had a better-funded campaign, Villanueva attracted significant support from unions and Latino voters. Leap noted the “collateral damage” of “voters who were primarily interested in other races and voted for Villanueva because of demographics or party support.” Leap and other experts debate whether Villanueva’s success thus far is a result of voters’ placing less value on incumbency, McDonnell’s overestimation of the power of name recognition, or the confusion prompted by Villanueva’s ballot designation as sheriff’s lieutenant, effectively muting the candidates’ different levels of experience.
ABC News spoke to Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, for its report on Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s bid for reelection to the House of Representatives. Rohrabacher, the article noted, is a staunch Reaganite who took an unexpected ideological turn in advocating closer ties with Russia. In the November 2018 midterm elections, he is one of several California Republicans scrambling to defend his seat. Observers noted that Rohrabacher’s longevity and conservative record give him a strong change of reelection. “He’s been around for almost 30 years in Congress,” said Yaroslavsky, who has known Rohrabacher for decades. “Don’t underestimate him because he will fight.”
The website Elite Daily asked UCLA Luskin’s Mark Peterson to weigh in on the remote possibility that Democrats will reclaim control of the Senate in the November 2018 midterm elections. “I think it is first vital to emphasize what a shocker that would be,” said Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law. In the event that Democrats beat the steep odds against them, Peterson predicted big battles between the Senate and White House, particularly over judicial appointments and an overhauled legislative agenda that would face President Trump’s veto pen. He also said the chances are slim that a Democrat-controlled Senate would convict the president if he is impeached by the House. “That requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which could not be achieved without a significant number of Republicans joining in,” Peterson said. “Given our current politics, that would probably take not only a ‘smoking gun,’ but a ‘smoking bazooka.’ ”