Field Poll: Tea Party Off the Radar of Ethnic Californian Voters

Field Poll: Tea Party Off the Radar of Ethnic Californian Voters

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While nearly three-quarters of white Californians have heard of the conservative, Republican Tea Party movement, more than half of the state’s ethnic voters say they are unaware of it, according to The Field Poll’s latest survey findings.

The racial divide over the Tea Party, which has garnered headlines since last summer’s boisterous protests against health care reform, is clear for each group polled but most dramatic for Asian Americans. In almost a mirror image of white voter responses, 77 percent of Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans said they had not heard or seen anything about the Tea Party protests over the past year.

Among Chinese Americans surveyed, 67 percent were unaware; more Latinos and African Americans had heard about it, with 59 percent and 53 percent respectively saying they never heard of the protests.

But even awareness of the Tea Party did not translate into much support among any group of voters. Although 72 percent of non-Hispanic whites were aware of it, 33 percent of whites said they did not identify at all with it, while just 17 percent said they identified a lot and 18 percent said they identified somewhat with the protest movement.

Among ethnic voters who had heard of the Tea Party, identification with it was even lower. Five percent of Latinos and Vietnamese voters, 3 percent of African Americans and 2 percent of Chinese Americans said they identified a lot with the movement. No Korean Americans surveyed did.

The Tea Party movement, which has organizations in states around the country, has been credited for helping Massachusetts senator-elect Scott Brown, a Republican, beat Democratic candidate Martha Coakley for the seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy for 47 years. Nationally, political observers have pondered whether the Tea Party’s clout could translate into Republican victories in the Golden State.

The Field Poll findings should temper expectations for any electoral earthquakes for conservatives in the majority-minority state.

“The predominant view has been that this is largely a movement coming out of the conservative side of American politics, and most have identified the Tea Party largely as a white, non-Hispanic phenomenon,” said Mark DiCamillo, vice president of The Field Poll. “It’s not surprising that ethnic voters are less aware of it.”

DeCamillo said voter responses about the Tea Party provide a baseline of attitudes that can be tracked as the gubernatorial and senate elections this fall approach. “We would like to revisit this question as we get closer to the November election. We want to know if awareness grows and if it does, which segments of voting population will be joining the Tea Party advocates. If this movement is to generate greater support you would expect it to expand beyond the traditional Republican base.”

James Lai, professor of political science, Santa Clara University, said The Field Poll results made sense given the nature of California’s diverse electorate. “It is a social movement, but for many minorities, it is a movement they are not part of,” Lai said. “The Tea Party issues speak to a particular class and they don’t speak to minority voters, as clearly. It would explain the racial disparities in terms of identifying with the movement a lot.”

Lai said the challenge for the upstart movement is to diversify its base. “If the Tea Party wants to be more inclusive and stronger in California, they are going to have to do more outreach,” he said. “But it’s worth it because California is a majority-minority state.”

The Field Poll survey interviewed 1,232 registered voters by telephone from January 4-17. It was conducted in English and five languages-Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese--for the first time in the organization’s nearly five-decade history. The survey was done in partnership with New America Media, which provided supplemental funding through grants from the James Irvine Foundation, the PG&E Foundation, the Blue Shield of California Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation.

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