Race Dominant Factor In Shaping US Elections: UCSD Professor
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / February 11, 2020
Speaker 1: 00:00 During the last presidential election, many political analysts pointed to class as a dividing factor for votes, but a new book dangerously divided how race and class shape winning and losing in America challenges that notion pointing to statistics and history to reveal race is an even bigger factor. Joining me is author and professor of political science at the university of San Diego, Zoe Heino. Zoe, welcome.
Speaker 2: 00:27 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: 00:28 So the central theme of this book is that race divides voters more so than class. Can you explain this?
Speaker 2: 00:35 If you look at the electorate as a whole, it's fairly obvious that race is the dominant factor shaping who we vote for. So overwhelmingly two thirds or more of racial and ethnic minorities are on one side, not just in 2016 but in 2018 and in other elections at the national and state level. And then on the other side you have about 60 65% or so of whites voting Republican. So the overwhelming majority of minorities on one side, the clear majority of whites on the other, and there really isn't a demographic divide that comes close to that.
Speaker 1: 01:12 Yeah, I mean, so many scholars point to classes. One of the determining factors in the 2016 election, how does your research fit with this notion?
Speaker 2: 01:22 Yeah, you cannot ignore the role of class. It matters growing economic inequality, economic anxiety, they all impact the vote. But one way to sort of think about this is to say, okay, if economic anxiety and class are the driving forces, then you should see racial and ethnic minorities who are also working class. And in fact disproportionately working class, you should be moving in the same direction as the white working class. And you see blacks and Latinos who are, are, are struggling, moving in the opposite direction as whites who are struggling. So similar economic circumstances, very different political choices. And it's really race that's doing that thing, wishing or movement. The other sort of reason why people are focused on class. If you look at the very small portion of the population that shifted from Obama to Trump, it is disproportionately white working class folks. So people who are struggling. But again, uh, minorities are struggling, moved in the opposite direction if at all. And if you look at the broader electorate, it's clear that these racial divisions dwarf these emerging class divisions. They're real and they're emerging, but they're, they're small, relatively speaking
Speaker 1: 02:30 in your book, you write that many people may not know and even be surprised by the extent to which the racial divide influences politics. How are politics shaped by this divide
Speaker 2: 02:41 at every level in every sense? And, uh, so, uh, if you, you know, we, we talk a lot about presidential elections, uh, but, um, the research that I did for this book looked at every single kind of election that you can possibly imagine. So from the president to local city and everything in between. And what you find is that that racial divide is omnipresent. Um, and it in almost every case dwarfs age, gender, class, and, and, um, in particularly, even when there aren't parties involved, so local elections, which are, are largely nonpartisan, race is still the dominant factor. In fact, in these local elections, racial gaps outweigh partisan or ideological gaps more often than not. So anytime we're choosing candidates, um, it really is race that predicts our choices much more than than class or any of these other factors.
Speaker 1: 03:35 What's the consequence of such a racially divided America shaping democracy
Speaker 2: 03:39 deeply and broadly? You have a sense among minorities that the system is not fair, a perhaps increasing sense that it is not going to be fair in the future. And then there's all the potential and real conflict that that seems to be flowing from that. Right? So we've have a rise in hate crimes and in particular a rise in hate crimes on the right as many whites think that they are losing their majority stash, that they are losing their power and their, you know, there, there, there is this real backlash, both political and violent. And so the, the fear is that that just continues to expand and you, you get even more violence than we've had in recent years. And just, uh, the whole scary notion of a nation divided a potentially civil war or, or, or that sort of thing.
Speaker 1: 04:32 Are there solutions?
Speaker 2: 04:34 So as a, as a field of political science, I'm not sure we've been able to demonstrate how you reduce those anxieties. There are solutions to the broader imbalances in American democracy. And the solution that I look at in this book is actually very simple and that is electing Democrats. So, uh, as I've said there, there are these imbalances in terms of who government responds to, but it's also clear that when Democrats are in the majority, when they're in control, those imbalances go away. So Democrats aren't biased in favor of minorities, they're just willing to equally listen to a range of the electorate and their policies follow that electorate fairly broadly.
Speaker 1: 05:15 Do you think these priorities are something the Republican party could latch hold of?
Speaker 2: 05:20 Well, I mean, I think the Republican party is clearly at, at the present time, focused on a strategy of winning elections by winning white votes, right? So 90% of the voters who voted for Trump are white. Most cases Republican votes are white votes. And that's a strategy that has been relatively successful for them, especially at the state level. And it's one that they're loath to give up. But if they are interested in thinking longterm, if they're thinking about, you know, America after it's in my majority minority nation, which won't be too long if they're looking at California, they, they can see that the current strategy is, is one that will likely fail miserably over the longterm. And so they do have a longterm incentive to try and attract more minority votes. And I would argue that they actually have an opportunity to do so. So for those minorities that are politically involved and active, they are clearly overwhelmingly democratic leaning. But there are a lot of minorities who are on the sidelines who are having chosen a party who are sort of a political, and the Republican party could begin to target that large and growing population. The Republicans would have to radically shift their policy agenda. They would have to radically shift their rhetoric on race and immigration, but they are not doomed. They may choose to be doomed, but they could become a party that represents a larger swath of America if they so chose.
Speaker 1: 06:50 I've been speaking with Zilli Heino, author of dangerously divided and professor of political science at the university of San Diego. Zoely thank you very much for joining us.
Speaker 2: 07:00 Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here.
UC San Diego political science professor Zoltan Hajnal's new book "Dangerously Divided" suggests race is the dominant factor shaping who wins and loses elections in the United States.