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Multiracial Survey To Tap Voter Attitudes

The pollsters have been out en force this presidential election season.

They’ll be out again on Election Day with a flurry of exit polls.

Come Nov. 7, however, an octet of junior Hispanic, Asian American and Black political science professors will just be getting started as they launch a rare, national post-election survey of 4,500 registered voters. Most such academic surveys focus on one or two ethnic groups. Many are limited to English or offer the survey in two languages. This survey, which will be available in six different languages, will tap large samples each of 1,000 or more Asian, Black, White and Hispanic voters.

The study represents a rare opportunity to canvass such large samples of multiple ethnic voters by a group of ethnic scholars. Unlike most previous surveys, this one will take place after the election to determine the impact of candidate advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts among these ethnic groups.

Surveyors will conduct the phone interviews through Dec. 19, with some results expected early next year.

“One of the struggles we always have with our research is when we want to make cross-racial comparisons, there’s a real paucity of data,” says Dr. Sylvia Manzano, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University and co-director of the school’s Project for Equity Representation and Governance.

“We thought what if we were able to pool our intellectual and academic resources and do something after the election,” Manzano recalls. “We’re going to have something really unique, a more accurate description of what people think about each other. We will really get into some interesting questions that are increasingly relevant. It ain’t what it used to be 25 years ago in terms of demographics.”

Then again, this presidential election isn’t like any other before it either.

The historic nature of the election first germinated Manzano’s idea to try to do something bigger than the Hispanic surveys that have been more of her primary focus.

In the spring of 2007, history was already in the making in American politics. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson — a White woman, a Black man and a Hispanic man — were seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

A group of young Hispanic political science professors huddled at the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago. Spearheaded by Manzano, they plotted to pool resources for a national, post-election survey of Hispanic voters and White voters. It started with four: Manzano, University of Southern California assistant professor Ricardo Ramírez, University of Washington assistant professor Matt Barreto and University of New Mexico assistant professor Gabriel Sanchez.

Then, Obama and Clinton became the front-runners. Pundits began to talk about his “Latino problem” and his “Asian problem” as Clinton fared far better with those voters.

The e-mails began to fly. Ramírez and Barreto suggested adding Asian voters to the poll. Two more political scientists joined the team: USC associate professor Janelle Wong and University of California-Riverside associate professor Karthick Ramakrishnan.

Obama was the presumptive nominee by the summer. The team expanded again. USC associate professor Ange-Marie Hancock and University of California-Los Angeles assistant professor Lorrie Frasure — both experts on African-American politics — came on board.

“More comparisons never hurt, so we thought it would be very unique: a multilingual, multiracial survey,” Ramírez says. “We all have our own expertise, but (decided to) pool our collective wisdom on voters to get something better.”


The composition of the group was done deliberately so that all the professors would be treated as equals.

“Of the eight people on the project, five are assistant professors, three are associates — two of which just recently received tenure last year — so our goal was to make this project a team of young scholars, and to make it truly collaborative,” Barreto says. “Often times, when you get a very senior and well-known scholar involved, it diminishes the role that junior scholars play in the eyes of some. So we wanted to avoid that and keep the team of similarly situated folks.”

Each of the investigators brought questions to the table that they hope will provide answers to their particular research focus. They hammered out the survey questions in conference calls. And with few exceptions, all the questions will be asked of voters from all the targeted ethnic and racial groups: Asian, Black, Hispanic and White.

Here are just some of the subjects they’ll tackle:

  • Generally, the higher the income and education status, the more likely people are to vote. But, as Ramakrishnan points out, Black voters have higher turnouts and Asian Americans have lower turnouts than expected for their socioeconomic status. “I’d like to dig deeper into finding out why that is the case.”
  • Political scientists have long studied how Black and White voters react to minority candidates like Obama who choose not to emphasize race in their campaigns. In the first campaign with such a candidate in a presidential election, Fraser wants to know: “Do Asians and Latinos experience these notions of deracialization in the same way as African-Americans?
  • With theories abounding that both Hispanic and Black voters will come out in  unprecedented numbers this year, the political scientists will look at how these groups turned out and why: “Without data, you can’t actually know,” Sanchez says.
  • Wong and Ramakrishnan participated in a national poll of Asian Americans before the election that showed while many preferred Clinton in the primaries, most said they’d back Obama in the general. Just how much they will support Obama is a mystery. “We don’t know the degree of support they have for Obama … we don’t know how their support compares to these other groups,” says Wong. “And we don’t know how their attitudes toward African-Americans vary compared to these other groups.”
  • Technology — from Facebook to MySpace to text messaging — has played a unique role in this presidential race, particularly among young people who are expected to come out in record numbers. Hancock wants to know “how kids of color are using (technology) with respect to the presidential campaign.”
  • Polls on attitudes toward immigrants and immigration are traditionally focused on a particular ethnic or racial group, Manzano says. “We have a lot of questions about people’s attitudes towards immigrants and their effect on the economy. And there’s a lot of punditry and talk about what various racial groups think about each other, but we don’t have a lot of data about really what they think.”

Immigration questions should be particularly nuanced with this survey.

The 25-minute telephone interviews, gleaned from registered voter rolls in 18 minority-rich states, will be available in six languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese.

The National Politics Study, led by University of Michigan associate professor Vincent Hutchings in 2004, was billed as the “first multiracial and multiethnic national study of political and racial attitudes.” Like the Multi-Racial, Post-Election Survey, it featured interviews with large samples of Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Whites. It also included a Black Caribbean American sample. It offered interviews in English and Spanish, but not in other languages.

“What that really means is the Asian American (sample) is quirky, because we only interviewed the Asian Americans who were sufficiently fluent in English,” Hutchings says of his survey, which the eight researchers are using as a model for the Multi-Racial Post-Election Survey. He offers kudos for the multilingual effort. “That is impressive.”

Hutchings says that researchers need the broader-based studies like those he conducted in 2004 and the one that will begin Friday, because most other surveys focus on one or two racial or ethnic groups.

“The point is, that most of these academic studies tended not to be so ethnically and racially diverse,” Hutchings says. “Commercial polls have done some comparable things. But those studies are typically far less nuanced and far more interested in a quick-shot telephone study that focuses on some candidate or some set of candidates. They don’t have the same rich battery of questions that academic surveys tend to have.”

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