Reexamining the Effect of Racial Propositions on Latinos’ Partisanship in California


Many seasoned politicians and scholars have attributed the loss in support for the Republican Party in California to its push for three racially divisive propositions in the mid- 1990s, especially the anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Their costs are said to involve the partisan realignment of Latinos against the Republicans. Using three separate data sources, we find no evidence of a “tipping point” or abrupt realignment among Latino registered voters who made up the electorate. Latinos’ partisanship within California did not change significantly; it did not change much when compared to nearby states; nor did voter registration change materially. The loss of support for Republicans occurred primarily among unregistered Latino voters whom historically had never been strong supporters. Our findings question the conventional wisdom about the powerful political effects of the propositions, and reaffirm the long standing conclusion in the literature that realignment due to a “critical election” is rare.

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  1. 1.

    “A good immigration bill.” Bush and Mehlman. Wall Street Journal. May 31, 2007. Jeb Bush is the former Republican governor of Florida and Ken Mehlman is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

  2. 2.

    See HoSang (2010), Armbrusterm Geron and Bonacich (1995), Pantoja and Segura (2003) and Pantoja and Segura (2003) for more comprehensive discussion of these topics.

  3. 3.

    Figures obtained from Pew Research Center ( (Accessed May 6, 2014).

  4. 4.

  5. 5.

    The Field Poll cumulative file, 1956–2008 offers a thorough discussion of the Field Poll sampling universe, method, and sample sizes (UCData 2008).

  6. 6.

    In Online Appendix Figure A-1 and Table A-1, we present the results with alternative coding for party identification. Instead of using the root three-point party identification question, we re-run our analyses with the standard Michigan seven-point party identification question. The conclusion is the same, that is, there is no evidence of an abrupt change in Latinos’ partisan identification after Proposition 187. In the Online Appendix, Table A-2, we present another model where we examine the years between 1990 and 2000. In this alternate model, 1990 is used as the baseline. The Gulf War that began in August 1990 marked the apex of President George H.W. Bush’s popularity and that year was a high water mark for the Republican Party in the state. When we use that as the baseline year for comparison, as expected, we find that GOP performed worse in subsequent years. The support for the Republican Party waned immediately after the conclusion of the war in February 1991, well before Proposition 187. In Table A-3 we test another specification by grouping the years into three discrete time periods. The coefficients do vary depending on model specification. However, in general, we find a gradual increase in support for the Democratic Party near the end of the study period, not an abrupt and drastic shift pre- and post-Prop 187. Some readers may interpret the gradual increase in the support for the Democratic Party as a “cumulative” effect of all the proposals and the changing macro political environment in the state.

  7. 7.

    We exclude Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana as these states have relatively few Hispanics. We also exclude Texas because it is far distant from California, and in some ways is as much a Southern state as a Western one, with, of course, a Confederate history. Also the state’s political environment differs significantly from California, since it has become dominated by the Republican Party in recent decades.

  8. 8.

    ICPSR studies 6102, 6520, 6989, 2780, 3527.


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Correspondence to Iris Hui.

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Hui, I., Sears, D.O. Reexamining the Effect of Racial Propositions on Latinos’ Partisanship in California. Polit Behav 40, 149–174 (2018).

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  • California
  • Racial propositions
  • Latino
  • Immigration
  • Partisan identification
  • Realignment