Michelson: Anti-Trump Latinos can shape California elections

By Melissa R. Michelson, Special to The Mercury News

2016 may go down as the Year of the Latino Voter.

Recent polls demonstrate the margins between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump narrowing, but Clinton’s decisive lead among Latino voters could make the difference, serving as a firewall against a late Republican surge.

In California, the impact could be even stronger. Increased Latino turnout will likely have decisive effects on initiatives and state and local contests. Here are a few examples.

Proposition 64 seeks to legalize recreational marijuana, a reboot of the failed Prop. 19 from 2010. Latinos voted against Prop. 19, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research. Recent polling data from PPIC found support for legalization was higher among Latinos than in 2010, up to 42 percent, but a majority still is opposed. This means high Latino turnout could mean rejection of Prop. 64.

Other measures that might be affected include replacing the death penalty with life sentences (Proposition 62), gun control championed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (Proposition 63) and a $2-per-pack cigarette tax hike (Proposition 56). Various surveys indicate Latinos favor repealing the death penalty and support gun control and higher cigarette taxes.

Latinos are almost 39 percent of the California population and nearly a quarter of the eligible electorate. While negative perceptions of the two major party candidates might depress turnout generally, Latinos are highly motivated to defeat Trump. This month’s Field poll shows that Clinton leads Trump by a 75-12 margin among California Latinos. In a three-way race with the Libertarian included, Trump falls into single digits among Latinos: 71-9-5.

Polling by Latino Decisions shows that Latinos are “eager” to vote against Trump. Considerable research also shows that Latinos tend to turn out and to vote in favor of qualified Latino candidates. This year’s U.S. Senate race between Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez isn’t expected to be close. A Field poll released this month found that Harris leads Sanchez 39 to 24 percent among likely voters. But strong turnout by Latinos might make it closer, since the same poll found Latino likely voters preferred Sanchez by a 2-to-1 margin.

In the open-seat race in the 44th Congressional district, strong Latino turnout might make the difference in the expected close race between Isadore Hall, a black member of the California Assembly, and Nanette Barragán, a Latina former councilmember from Hermosa Beach.

In San Francisco, strong Latino turnout might make the difference on a possible local initiative giving school board voting rights to non-citizen parents and guardians, including undocumented immigrant parents.

The Non-Citizen Parent Voter Initiative was just unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee and has a strong probability of being put before the voters. Similar measures failed in 2004 and 2010, but there is a sufficiently large Latino electorate in San Francisco that, if mobilized to vote against Trump, would likely favor the voting rights proposal.

San Francisco will also vote on a measure to approve $3 billion for BART expansion. In Los Angeles, voters will decide on measures expanding the supply of affordable housing. These measures are likely to be relevant to and supported by Latino voters; a surge in Latino turnout will help them.

Racist rhetoric from Trump, and a strong preference for Clinton, will motivate large numbers of Latino voters to go to the polls. Nationwide, that support might be a key to Democratic victory. Closer to home, it could swing races for Congress and on controversial ballot initiatives.

During the 2006 immigration marches, protesters chanted: “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”

Looks like tomorrow is here, and it’s going to matter.

Melissa R. Michelson is a professor of political science at Menlo College in Atherton. She wrote this for the Mercury News.

[via The Mercury News]