My View: Race Really Is the Driving Force in Politics

A number of commenters and even political leaders have attempted to downplay the issue of race in Davis.  A lot of people are more comfortable shifting the issue from one of race to socio-economic status.  But the data in the political arena say otherwise.

I found this interesting result from a PEW Research poll.

“Almost half of white Americans say the USA becoming a majority nonwhite nation would ‘weaken American customs and values,’ a Pew Research Center survey from earlier in 2019 said.

That number is 46 percent, almost half of all whites.

That is a huge number and comes amid increasing evidence that suggests race – not economics, not economic status, and not economic fear – was the driving force behind Trumpism.

We looked at a number of elections in Davis to see if they met the legal threshold for RPV (Racially Polarized Voting).

As defined under the law: “RPV exists when there is a difference in how members of a protected class vote versus members not within the protected class.”

We have noted that as the percent of Latino votes increases in a precinct from 4 percent to 20 percent, it impacts electoral outcomes.  In looking at the Partida-Carson race, as we have noted, it moves from Carson +5 to Partida +20.  In the Feinstein-De Leon race it moves from Feinstein +22 to Feinstein +10.

Is it overly simplistic to simply evaluate races on the basis of percent Latinx voters in a given precinct?  Yes.  Are there other variables?  Probably.

But I think anyone criticizing these conclusions needs to bear something else in mind: race may be the most important factor in politics.  By attempting to discount that in Davis, you have to argue that Davis is different.

But is Davis different?  I don’t think so.  If we analyze the more liberal and more conservative areas in Davis, we will actually see that, while Davis is much more liberal than the rest of the country, the basic patterns still hold.

And if we look at the national picture, the dominant force is not socio-economic status, it is not education level and, if anything, ideology is informed by race – not independent of it.

To understand just how powerful race is, let us look at some national level data that is readily available, having been used to analyze the 2016 presidential election.

In 2012, Obama defeated Mitt Romney in a relatively closely contested election. That disproves the RPV theory of politics, right? Not so much. Obama won, despite losing among white voters by a 59-39 margin, in part because he scored huge majorities of Blacks, Hispanics and even Asians.

Moving to 2016, a big reason why Hillary Clinton lost (aside from just being a bad candidate) is that somewhere between 6.7 million and 9.2 million whites switched from Obama to Trump.

At first you are wondering, how is it possible that whites who voted for a black president could be motivated by race to vote for Trump? But I think people see this too simplistically.

“Clinton suffered her biggest losses in the places where Obama was strongest among white voters. It’s not a simple racism story,” the New York Times’s Nate Cohn wrote on the night of the election.

This was not an economically driven vote as some have surmised. A multi-author study published in the Public Opinion Quarterly found that racial and immigration efforts, not economics, explained the shift in white voting – in other words, this really was about racism.

That study found that the voters who switched to Trump scored highly on measures of racial hostility and xenophobia – and were not especially likely to be suffering economically.

“White voters with racially conservative or anti-immigrant attitudes switched votes to Trump at a higher rate than those with more liberal views on these issues,” the paper’s authors write. “We find little evidence that economic dislocation and marginality were significantly related to vote switching in 2016.”

The research here shows that, in 2016, Clinton won by 80 percent among Blacks and by 36 among Hispanics, but lost by 21 (around the same margin as Obama) among whites.

When you look at socio-economics you don’t see the same impact. On education, Clinton won by 9 percent among those who were college graduates and lost by 8 among those with some college or less – interestingly enough, this marks a change from a few years ago.

But the key point is that Hillary Clinton did a lot better with people who were more educated, which is the opposite of what you might expect.

More curious, however, is that socio-economic measures like education level are actually dwarfed by the race effect.

While all voters with some college or less voted for Trump by 8 percentage points, when you look at white voters, that number is an astounding 39 percent.

The education gap is there – voters with a college degree still voted for Trump, but only by a 4 point margin.

In other words, college education matters, but race actually matters more.

We have somehow trained ourselves that it is not race but socio-economic status that drives the modern world.  But what we are seeing, in both voting patterns and opinion surveys, is that is untrue.

Race is not the same thing as socio-economic status for the purposes of voting behavior. And, in fact, race is by far the bigger factor.  In fact, race and socio-economic status are driving voter behavior in opposite directions.  Poor and less educated whites are voting conservatively.  Better educated whites are more liberal than their less educated counterparts, but still less liberal than people of color – Asian, Hispanic, or Black.

Given how big a factor race is nationally, why are we expecting things to be different in Davis? Davis as a whole is more liberal than the nation as a whole, but the patterns are not that dissimilar. When you want to talk about other factors being more important – socio-economic, education, party identification, ideology – remember, the underlying factor there is race underlies the latter two, and it trumps the former two.

The sooner we acknowledge this, the better we will be as both a community and a nation.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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58 Comments

  1. Alan Pryor

    A number of commenters and even political leaders have attempted to downplay the issue of race in Davis.

    David – I assume you include yourself in this category…or do you forget how you were the first to jump on the developer’s bandwagon and call out the No on WDAAC campaign for “playing the race card” for even suggesting that the Davis Based-Buyers Program could lead to a nearly all white enclave.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Money is the driving force in politics, and leads some to some to create “red herring” justifications, including denial of issues that would otherwise attract significant attention (had it not been for the actual driving force).

    2. David Greenwald

      I don’t to revisit the battle here over WDAAC, especially on the issue of district elections.  I looked at the data from UC Davis and the likely population of affordable housing residents and don’t agree with your assessment.

      1. Ron Oertel

        One of the problems with that argument, as I recall, is that the older generation of those associated with UCD (who would legally qualify to live at WDAAC) is significantly less diverse than the current generation.

        Another problem (that I don’t recall being explored) is how the diversity of UCD and Davis compares with larger populations, who would be excluded from living at WDAAC.

        I’m not at all surprised that you don’t want to revisit this issue, even in an article regarding race and politics. But, it (honestly) weakens your credibility regarding this particular issue.

        1. David Greenwald

          This is why I don’t want to do this, we end up down this rabbit hole and away from the issue of race and the district elections.  So this is my last comment on this subtopic.

        2. Bill Marshall

          One of the problems with that argument, as I recall, is that the older generation (“boomers”) of those associated with UCD (who would legally qualify to live at WDAAC) is significantly less conservative than the current generation, or the generation that preceded it.  

          Many of that generation, remember and often participated in the free speech movement, Civil Rights movement, ‘free love’, experimenting with MJ, etc.

          Equating age and politics is more than a bit ageist, and demonstratively wrong, particularly for boomers who graduated college/university (which is the WDAAC “market”)… many of the folk in my age cohort may have gone from ‘leftist’/liberal, to ‘moderate, leaning left’.  Not so much becoming ‘conservatives’…

          And Republican not = to ‘conservative’ historically (though I know of many Republicans who went NPP, in the last 5-10 years, because of the far right co-opting the party apparatus).

          The 3 largest ‘parties’, in CA, in order, are Democrats, NPP, Republican… and the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, are “losing ground”… mainly as Dems and Reps have gone towards 2nd and 3rd standard deviations as to values/politics.

        3. Ron Oertel

          But, since you brought up age, I wonder how the spectrum of political views of future occupants at WDAAC would have compared to those who would be excluded from living there, had the Davis buyer’s program gone forward.

        4. Alan Miller

          the older generation (“boomers”) of those associated with UCD . . .  is significantly less conservativethan the current generation, or the generation that preceded it.

          Equating age and politics is more than a bit ageist, and demonstratively wrong,

          Didn’t you just do that, in the previous paragraph?

      2. Eric Gelber

        As I commented yesterday, I believe WDAAC is relevant to district elections—due primarily to the concentration of older voters. I’d also note here that the proposed Davis-Based Buyers Program would not apply to the affordable rental units. It’s the for-sale housing that would be impacted by any racial bias inherent in those buyer restrictions.

        1. David Greenwald

          The numbers are fairly small 300 or so housing units, 150 affordable units.  I would estimate that the for-sale units could be somewhat less diverse than the rest of the community, but the affordable units, more diverse.  A district is going to be about somewhere around 15000, people, I don’t think this project is going to be that influential in the overall make up of a district.

        2. Eric Gelber

          That’s 300 households of seniors, who are high-participation voters vs. 15,000 total population of the district, most of whom can’t or won’t vote. I wouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of that number of voters on the outcome of a City election.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Although I disagree somewhat with Eric’s seemly correlating ‘conservative’ with college-educated, boomer, seniors, in any un-gerrymandered district, URCAD will be in same district as WDAAC, as will primarily student apt. complexes…

          Am not seeing any disproportionality…

        4. Richard McCann

          There’s already a high concentration of seniors across the street at URC. Should we have them disperse too? The truth is there are going to be different mixes of voters in each neighborhood because Davis has developed in distinct outward rings, with wealthier households in the outer rings for the most part.

          1. David Greenwald

            “That’s 300 households of seniors, who are high-participation voters vs. 15,000 total population of the district, most of whom can’t or won’t vote. I wouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of that number of voters on the outcome of a City election.”

            We actually don’t have demographic facts – just speculation

          1. David Greenwald

            That is correct. However, from that we still don’t know what the racial breakdown of the age-restricted portions will be, or how that interplays with non-restricted portions and the affordable housing. And then how that will interplay with a still unknown district. Bottom line: we have a few facts, but most of the facts are not in evidence just yet.

        5. Eric Gelber

          However, from that we still don’t know what the racial breakdown of the age-restricted portions will be, or how that interplays with non-restricted portions and the affordable housing.

          Right. We don’t know the complete demographic breakdown, particularly racial. But we do know that all of the 100 WDAAC affordable units and a minimum of 80% of the for-sale units are age-restricted. All I’m saying is that, particularly assuming URC is included in the same district, I would predict—i.e., speculate—that this will be a relatively conservative district given the voting patterns and participation rates of older, compared to younger, voters.

        6. Bill Marshall

          Yes, Eric… speculation as to racial, political, socio-economic (less so there), voting patterns… speculation.

          Based on biases and ‘proxy’ correlations… poor = liberal; well off = conservative; young = liberal/progressive; seniors being conservative;  POC’s = poor; whites = well off… some correlations have a kernel of truth, or more… but not causations…

          How about a POC, wealthy, college educated, senior?  What would their voting record be?  More on the ‘conservative’ side?  Nice when you can ‘pigeon hole’ folk… makes the world simpler… and often incorrect.

        7. Eric Gelber

          Bill – This is not pigeon-holing based on stereotypes. And it’s not predictions of how any individual votes. But there are statistical facts related to voting patterns based on various demographic characteristics that can be used to make predictions. See, e.g., https://www.ppic.org/publication/california-voter-and-party-profiles/. And, yes, there are complex interactions of the various factors. But the data is what it is, even if you choose to denigrate and dismiss it.

        8. Rik Keller

          If you think that the affordable housing component of WDAAC (which will be way less than 10% of the total population there), will be diverse l then you are contradicting statements made by the developers themselves that project less diversity then the current Davis population.

        9. Rik Keller

          You are confused about the actual affordability numbers in the WDAAC project. Because of the developer sleight of hand in taking credit for “units” even when they are merely studios, the population in the affordable units will be tiny compared to the overall population in non-affordable two-to four-bedroom units.

  2. Alan Pryor

    When you want to talk about other factors being more important – socio-economic, education, party identification, ideology…

    I think you forgot to include exclusionary zoning and redlining…

    1. Bill Marshall

      And, I think you forgot to mention ‘hot-button’ issues to support “other agendas”… just like the opposition for WDAAC was not based on “inclusionary housing”… it was based on no peripheral development… the current “district election” thingy is not based on a concern for minority representation… wish folk could be more honest, instead of ‘looking for soft underbellies’…

      Reminds me of a battered women shelter looking to locate in Davis… neighbors played the “traffic card”, and ‘crime card’ was semi-hidden (except by a PD officer in the neighborhood)… as was the we don’t want “those” folk in the neighborhood… different words, same music…

      There are those who always want to control others to fit their views… be it wood burning, flimsy plastic bags, peripheral development (or, any development) etc.  Not by education, nor persuasion, but by rhetorical politics.

      But wait, nobody would do that, right?

      1. Alan Miller

        Reminds me of a battered women shelter looking to locate in Davis … as was the we don’t want “those” folk in the neighborhood…

        “Those folk” being battered women?  Not sure I follow.  Drug addicts, parolees and mental health cases do draw concerns and “those people”-ism.  Who is against battered women being housed nearby?  Where is the potential threat?

      2. Alan Miller

        Not by education, nor persuasion, but by rhetorical politics.  But wait, nobodywould do that, right?

        Certainly not the Vanguard or those that comment in the Vanguard.

  3. Matt Williams

    In 2012, Obama defeated Mitt Romney in a relatively closely contested election. That disproves the RPV theory of politics, right? Not so much. Obama won, despite losing among white voters by a 59-39 margin, in part because he scored huge majorities of Blacks, Hispanics and even Asians.

    David, is there a particular reason why you used the second Obama election rather than the first?

    While I think comparing 2012 Obama to 2016 Clinton is interesting, equally interesting is a comparison of 2008 Obama to 2012 Obama.  Is there a reason why you omitted a comparison of 2008 to 2012?

    1. David Greenwald

      Recency mainly.  Trendline.  I really don’t know how relevant 2008 is to 2020.  In any case,  in 2008, Obama lost 55-43 among white voters.  I think that was the best that a Democrat had done in a generation. That said, the bleed off from Obama 2008 to Obama 2012 to Hillary 2016 is significant and shows a realignment trend.

      1. Alan Miller

        Recency mainly.  Trendline.

        Recency sure didn’t matter when talking about the current #ahem# “racial” makeup of the City Council.  Nope, the current situation didn’t fit the argument, so had to go back to “pre-recent” times to prove the male whiteness of the Davis City Council.  This is called ‘hypocrecency’.

        1. Bill Marshall

          This is called ‘hypocrecency’.

          Alan, if you don’t copyright the term, will you allow me to?  Perfecto!

          Agree with the rest of the post, aussi…

    2. Matt Williams

      David, you are falling into the trap of percentages.  I took the time to enter the “validated” Presidential Election results from Pew and Roper into a spreadsheet, and the result is the following table.  What jumps out is that your statement that “a big reason why Hillary Clinton lost (aside from just being a bad candidate) is that somewhere between 6.7 million and 9.2 million whites switched from Obama to Trump” is not supported by the data.  Clinton clearly lost 7.6 million white voters when compared to Obama 2008, and 2.2 million white voters when compared to Obama 2012, but those lost white voters did not move over to Trump (who also lost 2.5 million and 1.0 million white voters respectively when compared to Obama’s two opponents).  Clinton lost those white votes to “I’m not voting.”

      https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Presidential-Elections.jpg

      It is interesting to note that Clinton also lost African-American votes when compared to Obama, and that Trump gained African-American votes when compared to both of Obama’s opponents.

  4. Don Shor

    In looking at the Partida-Carson race, as we have noted, it moves from Carson +5 to Partida +20.  In the Feinstein-De Leon race it moves from Feinstein +22 to Feinstein +10.

    Is it overly simplistic to simply evaluate races on the basis of percent Latinx voters in a given precinct?  Yes.  Are there other variables?  Probably.

    Yes. Gender.

    1. David Greenwald

      Gender gap is there.  It was about 13 points in 2016.  That’s far smaller than the race gap and even then it was mediated by race.  White women voted for Trump.  The race gap was far larger than the gender gap.

    2. Bill Marshall

      David…you are missing the fact that with multiple variable, you have to isolate/correct for that… in either of your two examples (Partida/vs/Carson)(DeLeon vs Feinstein) that was not done… in the latter, you also have the factor of incumbency… figures don’t lie, but…

      1. Alan Miller

        David…you are missing the fact that with multiple variable, you have to isolate/correct for that…

        One fact not missing on me is that math isn’t the Vanguard’s strong point.

        1. Bill Marshall

          An inclination towards ‘stability’?  A known supportive quantity?  Latin voters ~ 40 years ago tended to register Republican, on ‘family value’ (traditional) issues.

          Main point is there are multiple variables… neither white, Black, Asian, nor Latinx are “monolithic”… yet, the data presented imply/assume they are… inherent bias?

      1. Ron Oertel

        Yeah, but what questions were asked?

        For example, if someone indicates a concern about the impact of illegal immigration, is a conclusion made that they are “anti-immigrant” or “racially conservative”?  In other words, is a differentiation made between the overall impact, vs. how they view the immigrants, themselves?

        Your larger point that people (of all races) tend to support those of the same race appears to be true, but is that necessarily racism? (The same thing is likely true regarding gender, and perhaps other factors.)

        1. David Greenwald

          Google it.

          The standard is RPV – racially polarized voting. The point of this column is to demonstrate that race is the most important variable in voter choice.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Well, you’re repeating it here – without defining it. I’m just providing an example of a potential problem, regarding the conclusion. Which isn’t all that unusual, regarding surveys and conclusions.

          Regarding race being the “most important variable in voter choice” (especially locally), I’m failing to see how the numbers back that statement up.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I realize that if any particular group is in a minority, then the tendency to support individuals who are of the same group is generally weakened, in an at-large election system.

          And, if the interests of a minority group are not adequately represented by those who are elected, then they can become disenfranchised.

          With the assumption being that one needs to be a “member” of the minority group, to understand the issues they face. Probably some truth, in that.

  5. Sharla Cheney

    This still doesn’t explain how dividing Davis up into districts is going to solve anything, except to make it easier to win an election with fewer votes and less money and without the need to attract broad support across the community.

    1. Alan Miller

      This still doesn’t explain how dividing Davis up into districts is going to solve anything,

      Or how purposefully carving out districts using racial data isn’t in and of itself — wait for it –> racism.

  6. Richard McCann

    The most important metric for socioeconomic status is wealth, not income or education. Do you have data on that? I suspect for whites that its a bell shaped curve of support for the Democrats, and for non-whites, the upper portion of the wealth curve is almost non existent (so small that it might not be possible to get a statistically accurate measure). Without sorting this out, it’s a bit difficult to assess the effect of race vs wealth. One clear aspect though is that lower wealth whites and non whites vote very differently.

  7. Alan Miller

    – in other words, this really was about racism.

    – voters with racially conservative or anti-immigrant attitudes

    Do you DG equate the three above terms in bold?

    And by ‘anti-immigrant’, do you mean people who are against only illegal immigration, or all immigration?

    And what does ‘racially conservative’ even mean?

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