Race and the Recall: Racial and Ethnic Polarization in the California Recall Election

Authors


  • The authors wish to thank Morgan Kouser for his helpful feedback and Matt Barreto and Shaun Bowler for their assistance with the data. Luis R. Fraga would like to acknowledge critical research assistance provided by Jessica Flores and Mishan Araujo.

Gary M. Segura is professor of political science, University of Washington, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195 (gmsegura@u.washington.edu). Luis R. Fraga is professor of political science, University of Washington, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195 (lrfraga@u.washington.edu).

Abstract

In the 2003 recall election in California, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante received more than 1.25 million fewer votes in the replacement election than votes cast against the recall of Gray Davis. A much smaller group voted “yes” on the recall but voted for Bustamante. The principal underlying explanation is racial and ethnic polarization. Using L.A. Times exit poll data, we compare the characteristics of voters who displayed the two unusual behavioral patterns with those who voted in more conventional ways. We find that Latinos and African Americans are far less likely than non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans to have defected from Bustamante given a “no” vote on the recall, and far more likely to have voted for Bustamante given a potentially strategic “yes” vote on the recall. The patterns of defection are consistent with racial polarization on Proposition 54, lending further credence to our claim that race and ethnicity persists as an important factor in vote choice, even in environments with a history of minority electoral success.

Ancillary