The Bradley Effect is still in effect


Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez and University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto step out to combat comments by Clinton staffer Sergio Bendixen about Latino voters not being overly friendly toward black candidates. They are wrong, Bendixen is right.

In attempting to prove their points, Barreto suggests we look at big-city mayors supported by Latinos in the past as well as black congressmen with large Latino constituencies. He points to the late Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, and alleges that he carried Latino voters with significant numbers. Rodriguez points to Tom Bradley’s Los Angeles wins over the years. He also mentions three black members of Congress in Los Angeles with substantial Latino populations as examples of Latino support for black candidates.

Neither goes far enough in their analysis. Take Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles), for example. Yes, Latinos outnumber blacks in her district. The problem with this example is that many aren’t eligible to vote, thus, although her district was drawn on population lines, the number of registered voters in her district is significantly lower than, say, any congressman in suburban Los Angeles, Orange County or San Diego.


Waters draws Latino support from those eligible to vote not because she is black but because most often she is unopposed by a significant candidate and is a Democrat in a hugely Democratic district. Every one of the examples cited by Rodriguez or Barreto have districts that contain overwhelming numbers of Democrats. Moreover, the districts are usually inner-city districts where voter registration is very low and voting participation is even lower.

When one compares Waters’ 35th District to Brian Bilbray’s 50th in suburban San Diego, one sees a huge difference. While the median income of Water’s district is far less than the Southern California median, Bilbray’s is the highest. In educational levels, Water’s district is very low while Bilbray’s is high. In the 2006 regular election, Bilbray had to attract 118,018 votes just to get 53%; Waters got nearly 84% with only 82,498 votes. Using black congressmen as examples in Los Angeles isn’t a good analysis.

A better example is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s first run for mayor in 2001. White incumbent James K. Hahn managed to cash in on his father’s popularity with L.A. blacks and drove a wedge between black and Latino communities. The second time around, Villaraigosa managed to turn white voters into a voting coalition with Latinos and froze the black population out, for good it seems, in major-league L.A. politics.

Latino voters generally don’t reflect the Latino population’s numbers, due to factors in both voting eligibility and registration rates. Those Latinos who do vote in Southern California cities tend to vote Democratic regardless of a candidate’s race. In the suburbs, the opposite is true, and 40% of suburban Latinos consistently vote Republican.

When truly given a choice, Latinos will not vote for a black candidate. Example, the Houston mayor’s race two times ago. Latino voters went for a Latino (Cuban American) candidate, ignoring the eventual black winner. In New York City, Latinos turned on black Mayor David Dinkins and voted for Republican Rudy Giuliani in his second run, then voted heavily for him in his reelection.

The best example is how Latinos voted when L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor. He was the pride of L.A. blacks and had done well with the small L.A. Latino electorate in his campaigns for mayor. Latinos told pollsters they would continue voting for Bradley, as did many whites. When the votes were counted, Bradley lost.

As a practicing politician I watched the votes come in, and when the San Francisco vote came in I realized that the polls had been wrong. Bradley would lose because his Bay Area margin was below the 100,000-vote plurality he needed to overcome the Southern California vote that tended Republican. When L.A. County was counted, he sank even further. What happened?

It was simple. My retired ironworker grandfather who never voted for a Republican in his life came back from Mexico to vote against Bradley. Why? Because, he told me, he would never vote for a black candidate for governor. His attitude ran rampant in the Latino community, particularly among older Latinos.

The election my grandfather participated in even gave a name to a now-famous political phenomenon: the “Bradley effect,” in which party affiliation and answers to pollsters prove superficial compared to deep-seated racial feelings.

What Sergio Bendixen expressed was, as Hillary Clinton expressed, a “historical comment.” The evidence: Look how successful Tom Bradley was in a statewide California election.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a San Diego TV commentator, columnist (In LA at Eastern Group Publications) and author whose books are available at and

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