Posted on September 23, 2011

L.A. County Redistricting Without Maps: Do People Vote Based on Race?

Gene Maddaus, LA Weekly, September 23, 2011

The L.A. County redistricting battle will come to its dramatic conclusion next Tuesday. {snip}

Today, it’s time to get to the issue on which this entire debate depends: Do people vote based on race?

It’s a tricky question to answer, but the county has to resolve it. If people do vote based on race, then the county has to draw a second Latino district. If they don’t, then the county can maintain the status quo.


Matt Barreto, a Latino political scientist, studied 43 elections over the past 15 years in L.A. County. According to his report, he found evidence of “racially polarized voting” in 41 of them. Let’s walk through a few of Barreto’s examples. First up, Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa’s 2005 victory represented a Latino breakthrough. That makes it easy to forget his 2001 defeat. That’s the one in which Jim Hahn used a crack pipe to scare people away from him–not so uplifting.

{snip} Two thirds of non-Latinos voted for Hahn, while Latinos overwhelmingly backed Villaraigosa.

OK, well that’s just one election. And maybe there were substantive, non-crack-pipe reasons to vote against Villaraigosa. Fair enough. So let’s move on to the 2003 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis.

This election was unique because voters had to vote twice–first, either for or against the recall, and then, for a replacement candidate.

The Democratic Party urged a “no on recall, yes on Bustamante position.” As we can see, Latinos did that–voting in equal measures for Gray Davis and for Cruz Bustamante.

But no other group did. In each case, there was a significant drop from Davis to Bustamante.


So let’s look at an election that most voters probably gave no thought to at all: the 2010 Democratic primary for state Insurance Commissioner.

This race featured two nearly identical candidates: Assemblyman Dave Jones and Assemblyman Hector De La Torre. The race was so far down the ballot that voters are unlikely to have spent much time researching it. The only difference most voters would have seen was between their surnames.

And that was enough to create substantial racial polarization. In L.A. County, according to Barreto’s research, non-Latinos actually voted in greater proportion for Jones than Latinos voted for De La Torre. {snip}

Barreto’s conclusion is pretty stark: “The most likely voting pattern to emerge is that White voters side with White candidates, Black voters side with Black candidates, Latino voters side with Latino candidates, and Asian voters side with Asian candidates . . . These voting patterns have consistently been found in rigorous statistical analysis from 1960 to 2010 in Los Angeles.”