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Demographics and Redrawn Boundaries Could Net Dems Big Win in California

May 31, 2022 by Brock Blasdell
Demographics and Redrawn Boundaries Could Net Dems Big Win in California
(Photo by Cedric Letsch via Unsplash)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Increasing Asian and Latino populations across California have reshaped the state’s voter demographics heading into the 2022 midterms. Amid congressional redistricting, it could create the perfect opportunity for Democrats to win seats in the 2022 primary and general elections.

“California lost a seat in the professional apportionment, and the domino effect was that a lot of seats did change. Boundaries of the congressional seats have been adjusted to conform to those population changes,” said Matt Barreto, a professor of Political Science and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

California’s latest census data shows a 26.8% increase in the state’s Asian population between 2010 and 2020, with dozens of counties reporting an over 30% increase in the demographic. In the same timeframe, the Hispanic and Latino population grew by 11.2% across the state, with Humboldt County, Sierra County and Lake County seeing Hispanic population growth upwards of 40% over the decade.

These demographics have typically voted Democratic and will likely continue to do so, Barreto said. This means the most competitive upcoming races in California likely won’t be between a Republican and a Democrat at all, but between two opposing Democrats. 

What is more interesting is how Democratic campaigns have worked to separate themselves from the pack, Barreto said. Some campaigns have already adopted newer, more diverse staff to reflect these shifting demographics, while others have opted for bilingual or multilingual campaigning led by Hispanic or Asian leaders and media managers.  

“Increasingly you are seeing it a lot in the Asian American community, and that itself is even more diverse depending on what part of the state you are in,” Barreto said. “In Orange County there is a huge Vietnamese population as well as a huge Filipino population. In Los Angeles we have a huge Korean and Chinese population. And then up in the Bay Area, there’s a couple of new seats that are majority Asian.”

As campaigns race to diversify staff, tactics and messages to suit these demographic shifts, stiff competitions for local and congressional seats have sprung up across the state. 

The most competitive races will be in Orange County, north Los Angeles County and Fresno County, Barreto said. The mayoral race in Los Angeles will also draw some attention as longtime Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti has been forced to step down due to term limits. 

Surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies place housing affordability and homelessness as two of the most important issues for Californians heading into the primaries. Gas prices, crime and public safety also top the lists, indicating an opportunity for any candidate willing to put a struggling economy on their political agenda.

“We find that over half of lower-income Californians say that … price increases are causing serious hardship for their family, and almost half say that their finances are worse off than a year ago,” Dean Bonner, the associate survey director and research fellow at the PPIC, said. 

“And so the economy is really on people’s minds,” he continued.

Abortion rights have also been a particularly politically invigorating issue for voters across California, with the PPIC finding six in 10 likely voters, and eight in 10 Democrats, more likely to vote for a House candidate who supports Roe v. Wade.

“Those are pretty strong findings,” Bonner said. “That seemingly is going to be an issue that is going to resonate with voters here in California.”

Gun laws and regulation surrounding mass shootings could resonate similarly with voters as they get closer to the general elections, Bonner said, and considering California’s top-two primary system, it could become an issue that helps candidates separate themselves from the pack. 

“This is something that might not have a big impact on the primary because a lot of people have already voted,” Bonner said. “But I do think when you get down to the top two in November, something like that could play a role when it comes to some of these closely divided races. Because, at least now, that seems to be an issue that we’ve seen in national polls that is really impacting how people feel about politics.” 

Republicans will have to struggle to make a name for themselves in the largely Democrat-led state, expert opinion and polling suggest. And as Gov. Gavin Newsom heads into his reelection campaign essentially unchallenged after a failed, Republican-led recall in 2021, the GOP’s prospects may boil down to waiting this one out.

“It’s been, I believe, more than a decade since a Republican won a state-wide race. And Democrats have hovered at or been at a two-thirds majority for … at least the past six years,” Bonner said. “From a baseline demographic standpoint, Democrats start off in a fairly strong position.”

With state demographics growing more favorable by the day for Democratic candidates, Republicans may lack the voter base necessary to upset Democrats heading forward. As many states across the nation expect a Republican takeover in the midterms, California may provide some congressional seats for the Democratic Party.

Brock can be reached at brock@thewellnews.com

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