In national terms, California is about as indelibly blue as the political process permits, but an unusually comprehensive exit poll of voters in Tuesday’s presidential election confirms that Los Angeles is perhaps the bluest of the blue; it is now more liberal and Democratic than the state as a whole.
The nonpartisan, citywide survey was conducted by Loyola Marymount’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles under the direction of Fernando Guerra, and the results are revealing. While 43% of the nation’s white voters cast ballots for Barack Obama, 76% of L.A.'s white electorate went for the president-elect. Similarly, while the Democratic candidate won 66% of the Latino vote nationally, he carried 77% of L.A. Latinos. The city’s African Americans matched national percentages: Obama got 97% of their vote. He also was the choice of 67% of L.A.'s Asian Americans (nationally, Asian Americans are usually too small a group to get counted effectively in exit polls).
Across the city, 71% of voters told the Loyola pollsters that race was “not at all” important in their decision on which presidential candidate to back, but what’s interesting is that Los Angeles’ white voters emerged from Tuesday’s general election as the most liberal constituency in the city. If you take as your measure the two hot-button statewide propositions on the ballot -- parental notification for teenagers seeking abortion and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- white voters’ social liberality is strikingly apparent.
Fully 69% of white voters opposed Proposition 4 (parental notification), and 73% voted against Proposition 8 (prohibiting same-sex marriage). Latinos voted for both proposals -- 47% to 39% for parental notification and 48% to 42% to prohibit same-sex marriage. (When totals don’t add up to 100%, it’s because not all those questioned voted or revealed their votes on every issue to the pollsters.) Blacks and Asians split their vote on the social issues: A 45% plurality of African Americans opposed parental notification; 57% supported the ban on same-sex marriage. Asian Americans went the other way: 57% were against banning gay marriage, while a 42% plurality supported parental notification.
Geographically, the Loyola poll overturned the longtime local political assumption that the San Fernando Valley is generally more conservative than the city south of the Santa Monica Mountains: 72% of Valley voters went for Obama, as opposed to 78% of the rest of the city’s electorate. Similarly, a solid majority of Valley voters opposed parental notification (57%, which was higher than the city as a whole, at 51%) and a stunning 63% of Valley ballots were cast against the same-sex marriage ban. The rest of the city opposed the measure 54% to 31%.
All four of the city’s largest ethnic groups -- whites, Latinos, blacks and Asians -- are more liberal and more heavily Democratic than their counterparts statewide. Looking at same-sex marriage, for example, Loyola’s Guerra pointed out that 70% of blacks statewide opposed Proposition 8, compared to L.A.'s 57%.
So, with a mayoral election just over the horizon, what do these new realities suggest about the future of politics in Los Angeles? As Guerra said, it will be “much, much tougher for a Riordan-type Republican candidate to win the mayor’s office, somebody like Rick Caruso,” the billionaire shopping mall developer who announced Friday that he wouldn’t be running.
While the old divisions between Valley voters and the rest of the city have been swept away, Guerra says that some of the center’s other work suggests that pockets of traditional conservatism remain. Some districts north of the Santa Monicas may continue to elect relatively more conservative City Council members while voting with the rest of the city’s liberal majority on national, state and even citywide issues.
Other research by the Loyola-based center has verified a trend that may be increasingly decisive in local politics: Latinos’ overwhelmingly pro-union sentiment. Latino voters are virtually across-the-board supporters of organized labor and its agenda. In part, that’s because the region’s resurgent unions are essentially a Latino movement, which is one of the reasons labor here has championed immigrants’ rights so strongly. The loyalty is reciprocal; one of the significant things Guerra and his colleagues have discovered is that Latinos support organized labor whether or not anybody in the family pays union dues. In fact, nonunion Latino households are more likely to endorse labor’s agenda at the polls than white union members.
“To win in the future,” Guerra said Friday, “citywide candidates will need to put together a coalition of liberal whites, Latinos and unions. Tap them, and you’ve got an unbeatable combination.”
You’ve also got a very different Los Angeles.
Traditionally, officeholders here have been elected by one city to govern another. That is, the electors have been older, whiter, more conservative and more affluent than the majority of Angeleos; they have had interests -- and they expected the officials they chose to serve them. Those who have been governed mostly have been younger, browner, blacker and far poorer than the electors; they have had -- and they continue to have -- needs, which sometimes have been met and, too often, haven’t.
The disconnect between the traditional electors’ interests and the civic majority’s needs is the source of much of our civic dysfunction. When the overwhelming majority of this new Los Angeles told the Loyola pollsters that they voted for the presidential candidate they felt would “bring change,” they may have had more than the White House in mind.