September 26, 2003

New Poll Shows Racial, Ethnic Splits Among California Voters on Recall, Replacement Ballot, Proposition 54, Race Relations

LOS ANGELES – The California electorate is sharply split along racial and ethnic lines with Latino, African American, Asian American and white voters expressing distinctly different views of the recall, of Gov. Gray Davis’ performance in office, of the candidates seeking to replace him and of the racial classification initiative (Proposition 54).

These are among the major findings of the 2003 Multilingual Survey of California Voters, an in-depth survey of registered voters with large samples of racial and ethnic groups that typically represent small fractions of respondents in statewide polls. The survey was conducted Sept. 6-16, 2003, by the public opinion firm Bendixen & Associates for a partnership of four organizations: USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism, the Pew Hispanic Center, New California Media and The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute.

The Recall Election

Hispanics (45% support vs. 47% oppose) and Asian Americans (44% support vs. 46% oppose) are closely split on whether Gov. Gray Davis should be removed from office, while blacks oppose the recall by a wide margin (65% vs. 23%) and whites favor the recall (56% vs. 35%). In the contest to replace Davis, should the recall succeed, Latinos (57%) were more than twice as likely as whites (22%) or Asian Americans (25%) to say they will vote for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and more than three times as likely as African Americans (17%). A similar split emerged when respondents were asked whether they had a positive or negative attitude toward Bustamante, with 41% of African Americans expressing negative views, while 67% of Latinos expressed positive views.

Support for Arnold Schwarzen-egger varied widely. Asian Americans (22%) and whites (20%) said he would get their vote in about equal measures – at about the same level as Bustamante – while support among Latinos (13%) and blacks (7%) was significantly lower.

“Some very clear differences along racial and ethnic lines emerge from this survey, notably between Latinos and blacks,” said Pew Hispanic Center Director Roberto Suro. “Whether they are peculiar to this election or reflect more fundamental divides will be critical to California’s political future.”

The Views of Latinos

By including interviews with a large sample of Latinos in both English (48% of the sample) and Spanish (52%), the survey was able to explore the range of views within this segment of the electorate. Substantial differences emerged between English- and Spanish-speaking Latinos. For example, English speakers were more than twice as likely (40% vs. 16%) as Spanish speakers to say Davis is doing a poor job as governor. English speakers also were more likely to say they would vote to recall Davis (51% vs. 39%). Bustamante drew greater support among Spanish speakers (66%) than among English speakers (47%). And more Spanish speakers had negative views of Schwarzenegger (65%) than did English speakers (52%). In contrast, no substantial differences according to language preferences emerged in Latinos’ views of Proposition 54.

Nearly half (49%) of Latinos said that Schwarzenegger’s support for Proposition 187 – the 1994 initiative that would have denied social services to undocumented immigrants – and his alliance with former governor and Prop. 187 backer Pete Wilson affected their opinion negatively, with Spanish speakers (59%) more likely to express that view than English speakers (37%).

“Contrary to the pundits’ prediction that Schwarzenegger’s support among Latinos will come from the male youth vote, the poll reveals that his support among likely Latino voters (13%) comes primarily from those registered as Republicans,” said Harry Pachon, president of The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, citing his institute’s further analysis of the survey findings.

Proposition 54

Substantial numbers of California voters are still undecided or say they are not aware of Proposition 54, a ballot initiative that would amend the California Constitution to prohibit the collection and use of various kinds of racial and ethnic information by the state, local governments and schools. However, Latinos (46%), African Americans (41%) and Asian Americans (42%) are expressing more support for Prop. 54 than whites (31%). The presentation of three arguments on each side of the debate did not produce any significant shifts in respondents’ views.

“The message for opponents of Proposition 54 is loud and clear. They’re not getting across to the very groups that they’re counting on most to defeat the measure,” said Sandy Close, executive director of New California Media.

Race Relations

Views of race relations also reveal substantial divisions, with Latinos and Asian Americans seeing improvement but whites and blacks expressing more pessimism; 44% of both Latinos and Asian Americans said race relations in California are improving, but only 34% of whites and 24% of African Americans expressed similar views. A majority of Latinos (57%) and Asian Americans (59%) also see prospects for economic improvement, while African Americans are notably less optimistic: 29% said opportunities are worsening, and 45% said they are staying the same. Asked whether they need government protection against discrimination, substantial majorities of blacks (81%), Latinos (76%) and Asian Americans (69%) say they do.

“Race and language both matter, and discrimination remains an important issue in California, but the real significance of this kind of polling is its value as a tool for hearing and understanding the full range of voices that will shape California’s future,” said Steve Montiel, director of USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism.


The 2003 Multilingual Survey of California Voters is comprised of four separate samples of California’s major racial and ethnic groups:

- 600 Hispanics, who were interviewed in Spanish and English (margin of error: +/- 4.1%)

- 504 African Americans, who were interviewed in English (margin of error: +/- 4.5%)

- 254 whites, who were interviewed in English (margin of error: +/- 6.0%)

- 250 Asian Americans, who were interviewed in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese or Korean (margin of error: +/- 6.3%).

“This study made a great effort to interview immigrant voters,” said Sergio Bendixen, president of Miami-based public opinion firm Bendixen & Associates, which conducted the survey. “The poll was conducted in six different languages and dialects and is unprecedented in the history of California political polling.”

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