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Policy Report Democracy & Voting Rights

From Affirmative Action to Gig Economy: Racial Differences in the Support for California Propositions in the 2020 Election

This report offers a comprehensive look at how both race and geography influenced voter support for 2020 ballot measures in California dealing with affirmative action, rent control, employee protections for gig workers, and other issues.




In this report, Jessica Lee, Nathan Chan, and Natalie Masuoka compare the level of support for statewide ballot measures across precincts with high densities of Asian, Black, Latino, and white voters in a sample of nine California counties. They analyze presidential vote choice and preferences on all 12 statewide ballot measures.

In California, racial and geographic variation in voter preferences in the 2020 election debunked overly generalized claims about “the Asian American vote” or “the Latino vote.” Diverse voting patterns across regions in the state reflect the general diversity of California voters. Collectively, this shows that the politics of voters’ surrounding environments can—and do—influence Asian American and Latino voter preferences, making voter education and mobilization campaigns especially important for statewide contests.

Main Findings:

• There was strong support for the Democratic presidential candidate, Joseph Biden, across counties and racial groups but greater variation on the 12 ballot measures by race and state region. In other words, the national contest shows strong consensus while preferences on policy issues in statewide contests reflect greater political diversity across the state.

• In this election, voters in high-density Asian American precincts demonstrated similar preferences on the ballot measures as those in high-density white precincts. In contrast, voters in high-density Latino precincts exhibited a unique pattern of preferences on ballot measures, which often aligned with those of voters in high-density Black precincts.

• Voters in high-density Asian American and Latino precincts in Bay Area counties took more progressive positions on ballot propositions compared to those in Central and Southern California counties, suggesting that regional factors also play a role.

• Ballot measures related to criminal justice reform, affirmative action, and rent control were voted down in 2020. On these issues we find distinct racial group differences demonstrating the challenges of generating widespread cross-racial support for ballot measures.