California Voters Support Affirmative Action

National Asian American Survey finds across-the-board support among increasingly diverse electorate

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. – In a state where no racial or ethnic group is in the majority, California voters in all racial groups support affirmative action, according to a report released today by the National Asian American Survey (NAAS).

That is a significant change from 1996 when 55 percent of the state’s voters supported Prop 209, which ended affirmative policies in public employment, contracting and education in California, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, survey director and professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside.

The report – “Views of a Diverse Electorate: Opinions of California Registered Voters in 2014” – analyzes data gathered by the Field Poll in a survey that asked 1,280 registered voters about the direction California and the country are heading, the job performance of President Barack Obama and Congress, and their views on the death penalty and affirmative action. Registered voters were surveyed by telephone between Aug. 14 and 28, and the data allow for comparisons between whites, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans.

As the report notes, in 1994, 77 percent of registered voters were white, 11.4 percent were Latino, 5.9 percent were African American, and 4.4 percent were Asian American. In 2012, 55.6 percent of registered voters were white, 24 percent were Latino, 10.3 percent were Asian American, and 6.9 percent were African American.

“The growing diversification of California’s electorate is unmistakable,” Ramakrishnan and co-author Taeku Lee, professor of political science and law at UC Berkeley, wrote in the report. “This is a remarkable transformation in the electorate over 20 years, and a sign of even greater change to come as Asian Americans and Latinos are among the fastest growing groups in the state,” they added.

Asian Americans have been included in general surveys of voters in the past only occasionally, Ramakrishnan said. “That needs to happen more frequently. If we don’t have regular surveys that include a sizeable number of Asian Americans, we get an incomplete picture of the California electorate,” he said.

For example, Ramakrishnan said, there was significant activism earlier this year among Asian Americans in Los Angeles suburbs and the Silicon Valley who opposed affirmative action.

“But we did not know if this was the opinion and effective mobilization of a select group, or reflective of a larger sea-change in the Asian American community,” he noted. “And we now know that support among Asian Americans has declined from 2012, but is still high in support of affirmative action,” he added.

More generally, Ramakrishnan noted that without timely surveys of Asian Americans in California, we can have a partial or misleading picture of what Asian American voters care about.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Non-Hispanic whites are pessimistic about the direction of the country, but not about the direction of the state. They give President Obama low approval ratings, and Congress even lower ratings. They also support the death penalty, including speeding up the process to avoid long delays. They also support affirmative action programs that relate to jobs and education.
  • Latinos are pessimistic about the direction of the country, and ambivalent about the direction of the state. They give President Obama a net positive approval rating, and net negative rating for Congress. They support the death penalty, but are more divided when it comes to speeding up the process to avoid long delays. They strongly support affirmative action programs that relate to jobs and education.
  • Asian Americans are ambivalent about the direction of the country, and positive about the direction of the state. They give President Obama a net positive approval rating, and a net negative rating for Congress. They support the death penalty, but are more divided when it comes to speeding up the process. They support affirmative action programs that relate to jobs and education, and this support also holds true for detailed origin groups such as Chinese Americans and Vietnamese Americans.
  • African Americans are the most optimistic about the direction of the country and the state. They give President Obama high approval ratings, and Congress very low approval ratings. They are very supportive of solutions to move away from the death penalty to life imprisonment, and are also very supportive of affirmative action programs.

The complete report is available on the NAAS website.

The Field Poll was established in 1947 as The California Poll by Mervin Field and has operated continuously as an independent, nonpartisan survey of California public opinion. Among its financial supporters are the University of California and California State University, which receive data files from each survey for teaching and research.

This survey was conducted in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese, and included supplemental interviews with Asian American voters in a collaboration between the National Asian American Survey and the Field Poll.

UC Riverside is one of the most diverse public research universities in the country, and is a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Karthick Ramakrishnan
E-mail: karthick@ucr.edu

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