UCSD Experts Foresee Political Shift to the Left in County, State, Nation
Ioana Patringenaru | October 20, 2008
In Their Own Words
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Sen. Barack Obama will likely win the presidential election, UCSD political scientists forecasted last week. They also said that more Republican office holders might be elected in the City of San Diego, even though a majority of voters in the county are likely to vote Democratic in the presidential race.
The five experts spoke during an elections briefing hosted by Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and UC San Diego’s Board of Overseers, a community board that advises the chancellor. The election, Fox pointed out, is one of the most important decisions facing the nation, the state and the city. “At a time of financial crisis for the nation, the forces that exert pressure on the election are all the more important,” she said. “Our Board of Overseers and I want to share the university’s world-class scholarship to address questions of this sort.”
"UCSD acts as a resource to the community on many issues, including politics, said Daniel Eaton, the chair of the Board of Overseers. “It’s not just an oasis on the hill." As an example, he pointed to the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, which featured an article that extensively quoted UCSD professor Zoltan Hajnal, the author of “Changing White Attitudes Toward Black Political Leadership.”
During Tuesday’s press briefing, Hajnal said he believes Sen. Obama very likely will win in November. Americans, he argued, are now used to black political leaders. Today, there are about 10,000 elected black officials across the nation. Also, about 40 percent of U.S. residents live in metropolitan areas that's had a black mayor or in a state that’s had a black governor. As a result, white voters’ fears of black politicians have lessened, Hajnal added.
However, race is still a factor on the fringe, Hajnal added. In national polls, a little more than 40 percent of white Americans say they support Obama. That’s roughly 5 percent lower than the support a typical white Democratic nominee would get, Hajnal said. Obama is in a strong position, with a very unpopular Republican president, a faltering economy and an unpopular war, the political scientist went on. “You’d think Obama would be doing significantly better among white voters,” Hajnal said. “He’s doing a little bit worse.” The political scientist added he expects strong minority turn-out to make up for the shortage of white votes.
It’s not just black voters who are backing Obama, the experts said Tuesday. Polls show that two-thirds of Asians and Latinos also favor him, Hajnal said. Indeed, Latino voters are being courted in this election like never before, UCSD political scientist Marisa Abrajano said Tuesday. They are now the largest minority group in the United States and many live in battleground states in this election such as Colorado and Nevada, she also said. Latinos historically favor Democratic candidates, but during the last election, President Bush captured 40 percent of their votes. However, in this election, they seem to have rallied behind Obama, after favoring Sen. Hillary Clinton in the primaries, Abrajano said. “The Latino vote is yet again going to play an important role in this election,” she concluded.
Latinos are a key voting block in San Diego and California, Hajnal said. As a result, both the state and the county are likely to veer farther to the left in coming years, he predicted. In fact, in this election, a majority of San Diego County residents could vote for a Democratic candidate for the first time in history, said UCSD political scientist Thad Kousser. “No Democratic candidate has won a majority in San Diego County. This could be the year it happens,” he said. As an aside, Bill Clinton won a plurality of votes here in 1992.
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Meanwhile, unlike the county, the City of San Diego could trend more conservative, said Steve Erie, the director of UCSD’s Urban Studies Program. “It’s a blue county, but an increasingly red city,” he said. By the day after the election, San Diego might have a Republican city attorney and a city council evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, in addition to a Republican mayor, Erie said. The Republican Party has poured four to five times as much money as the Democratic Party into this election, he pointed out. “These may be nonpartisan races, but this is contested terrain,” Erie said.
Finally, UCSD historian Naomi Oreskes talked about the impact of the election on environmental issues. She said she was dismayed at how little discussion of these issues took place during this year’s electoral campaign. “This is not an issue that politicians think could get them votes,” she said.