Profs Offer Outlook on State’s Political Future

    Political science professor Thad Kouser addresses the future of California politics at a conference in downtown San Diego Oct. 14. Topics included minority voting and the upcoming presidential election. (Joyce Lee/Guardian)

    A team of UCSD professors met in downtown San Diego Tuesday to discuss current obstacles and trends in regional and national politics, focusing particularly on the impact of the presidential election on San Diego and the greater California region.

    The group of four political scientists and one historian reported that the role of Latinos and blacks in the U.S. political system is growing as San Diego County and California drift toward an increasingly liberal political future.

    The fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., Latinos make up 15 percent of the population and are becoming a major force in national politics, assistant professor of political science Marisa Abrajano said.

    “Unlike African Americans who are strongly part of the Democratic Party, Latinos are traditionally Democrats only 60 to 40 percent [of the time], and George Bush captured 40 percent of the [Latino] vote in the past ­— the only Republican candidate to do so,” Abrajano said. “For these reasons, every time the presidential election comes, a lot of attention is given to Latinos.”

    Particularly due to the locations in which they are most highly concentrated, Latinos have the power to deliver decisive swing states, Abrajano said, including Colorado, Nevada and Florida and New Mexico.

    “The key to translating this electoral size into power is actually getting Latinos to turn out on Election Day,” Abrajano said. “That is something they have been nefarious at, because many Latinos are first-time voters, meaning the parties don’t think of them as likely voters.”

    Female voters, according to Abrajano, are also more active than usual due to the presence of candidates Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, but are more likely to base their vote on issues such as the economy and national security rather than a gender preference.

    The trend of minority empowerment continues with blacks, too, assistant professor of political science Zolton Hajnal said. Compared to the 1990s, blacks are much more likely to hold public office or advance politically.

    “One of the biggest question[s] surrounding this election is, ‘Is America ready for a black president?’” Hajnal said.

    One promising sign, according to Hajnal, is the presence of 10,000 elected black officials throughout the country, a result of the change in national perspective following the introduction of black leadership in America. After the initial election of black mayors and governors, the political landscape did not undergo any dramatic change, which in turn lessened white fears of blacks in leadership positions.

    However, Hajnal added that while minority influence has grown, this does not necessarily translate into potential for electoral victory, and political inclinations may still be swayed by a greater Republican influence in the short term.

    “San Diego has been trending Democratic,” said Steven Erie, professor of political science and director of UCSD’s urban studies program. “There’s a Democratic plurality in the city, but this is contested terrain. San Diego is the last kind of Republican anchor project on the West Coast.”

    San Diego Republicans have out-organized and outspent Democrats in recent years, Erie said, contributing to what he predicts will be a Republican mayoral victory and an evenly split city council, despite a growing number of Democratic voters.

    Similarly, California as a whole has undergone a Democratic transformation over the last decade.

    “We’ve gone from a state divided along north-south lines to one divided along east-west lines with a more Democratic coast and conservative suburbs,” professor Thad Kousser said. “We’ve moved from a state that was reliably red, part of the Reagan and George H.W. coalition, to one that is so blue that the major parties haven’t even contested us in presidential campaigns.”

    Naomi Oreskes, professor of history and science studies and provost of Sixth College, commented on the state of environmental policy in the changing political landscape, claiming that climate-change initiatives are not receiving the attention they deserve.

    “We see the gap between the time-scale of dramatic issues developed and the timescale of the attention span of politicians and constituents,” Oreskes said.

    While studies show that 62 percent of Americans believe that life as they know it will continue only if drastic environmental action takes place, Oreskes said, environmental issues are continually drowned out by the war in Iraq and the current economic crisis.

    This indicates that the parties are taking little interest nationally and [environmental policy] has not even been discussed, even in the primaries when candidates differed greatly over the issue,” Oreskes said.

    Oreskes also said that the entrenched policies of the Bush administration reflect a continuing divide between Republicans and Democrats over energy and environmental policy that began in the 1990s.

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