Thursday, April 08, 2010

Eh, The Kids Are All Right

I found some actually surprising news this morning. The subject matter and conclusions weren't all that surprising, but the fact that this opinion piece on the changing attitudes toward immigrants in California was written by a Republican raised my eyebrows. Dan Schnur, currently the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, also served as communications director for Gov. Pete Wilson and was an advisor to the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain.

It wasn't all that long ago (1994) that Californians passed a proposition which would deny social services to illegal immigrants. The proposition was struck down as unconstitutional, much to the dismay of the voters. Such a proposition would not be passed so handily these days, according to Mr. Schnur after he viewed some recent poll numbers.

...In 1994, Proposition 187 passed with almost 60% of the vote, and polling done by both political parties during subsequent election campaigns has suggested that the state's electorate would continue to support measures to deny a broad range of social services to illegal immigrants. Our new poll, however, found that California voters today are almost evenly divided on the question. Forty-five percent of respondents still support the denial of services -- including public schooling and healthcare to illegal immigrants -- but 47% oppose the idea. This represents a marked shift in public opinion with ramifications for both state and national politics and policy reform efforts.

It would be natural to assume that California's growing numbers of Latino and Asian American voters are the reason for this historic shift. But that would be only part of the story. Although voters from these two groups oppose the denial of social services at a greater level than white or African American voters, the opinion gap on this question is much more pronounced when results are broken down demographically by age rather than race.

Californians aged 18 to 29 opposed this proposal by more than a 20-point margin, while voters 65 and over supported it by 12 points. That's a differential of more than 30 points between age groups on the question of whether illegal immigrants should receive social services from the state, a much larger disparity than when the results were examined by racial or ethnic category. Further, on the more basic question of whether illegal immigrants have an overall positive or negative effect on the state, voters under 45 joined Latino and Asian American respondents in answering that illegal immigrants represent a net benefit.
[Emphasis added]

Why such a substantial age disparity? Mr. Schnur points to what I consider a fairly obvious factor: younger people have grown up with neighbors of different ethnicities.

Just as young people are more likely to have gotten to know a gay neighbor or co-worker, the growth in the Latino and Asian population in the state has given young Californians a much higher comfort level than their elders with those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. In both cases, exposure has brought familiarity, which has in turn brought tolerance. [Emphasis added]

So, has California become a paradise of forward, humane thinking? Not hardly, at least not yet. Still, as immigration policy is debated in the coming year, politicians might want to take a look at the findings in this poll. If the younger people start voting regularly, politicians will have to acknowledge the sea change starting in California.

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