March 9, 2011 | Examiner | Original Article

Hispanic population grows in California, gives Democrats chance to gain seats

Hispanics are close to overtaking whites as the largest minority in California, which could have major implications for the state’s political landscape.

According to new U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 38 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic compared with 40 percent who are white, which is down 5 percent from the 2000 census – Asians make up about 13 percent of the population and blacks make up around 6 percent. In fact, in Orange County, the census found that whites are now a minority and that Hispanics make up the largest block of school-age children – more than half of all California children are Latino.

“Hispanics are the future of California,” William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said in a Washington Post article. “Any local or state initiatives that have to do with education need to reach out to this population. That’s more crucial in California than anywhere else.”

The growing Hispanic population also has implications for the state’s political balance. California already is traditionally a Democratic stronghold and the increasing presence of Hispanics would give Republicans an even greater disadvantage in statewide elections seeing how the GOP typically does not fare well among Hispanic voters.

The Post reported that in 1990, Hispanics were 26 percent of the state’s overall population. By the next census in 2000, non-Hispanic whites already were a minority. The increasing Hispanic population also has increased their share of the electorate to 22 percent in the 2010 November elections – something that was credited with helping California Democrats buck the Republican tide facing the rest of the country and instead causing Democrats to win every major statewide office.

“The 2010 election is a very accurate foreshadowing of the impact of the Latino vote in statewide elections, unless Republicans figure out a different way to deal with this,” Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said.

Typically the coastal areas of California lean Democratic, while the inland areas lean Republican. The effects of an increasing Hispanic population will get its first test during the 2012 elections after redistricting, which could give Democrats better chances of picking up seats in those Inland areas that were generally unattainable.

San Bernardino County, for example, is one of the inland counties that is traditionally a Republican stronghold with four Republican U.S. representatives having at least a portion of their district in the county and one Democratic representative also having a portion of his district in the county. Latinos in San Bernardino County now make up 44 percent of the voting-age population, which is up from 34.6 percent in 2000. Overall, the county is 49.2 percent Latino, which surpasses Los Angeles County’s 47.7 percent Latino population.

Riverside County is another inland county that has seen its Latino population increase with roughly 40 percent of Latinos being of voting-age, up from 31.1 percent in 2000. Overall, Riverside County is 45.5 percent Latino. Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, for example, represents parts of Orange and Riverside counties but could have a tougher time getting re-elected with the Latino population in his district increasing 64 percent.

“The population is shifting inland but the districts are no longer as conservative and Republican as they were,” GOP consultant Adam Mendelsohn said in a Los Angeles Times article. “[The population growth] is largely Latino, and I do think if Republicans want to take advantage of the opportunity of more people coming inland, it’s going to require a change in message and approach. They’re still largely communicating with older white conservatives, and until their message expands beyond those groups, they will struggle in their geographic strongholds as more and more Latinos make up the inland voting base.”

The executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials also agreed with Mendelsohn’s assertion. 

“From a political perspective, any party that wants to be a majority party in the future is going to have to have a significant share of that population,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the association, said.