Ethnic Politics and Racial Issues: Voting in Los Angeles

Date01 December 1971
Published date01 December 1971
Subject MatterArticles
HARLAN HAHN, University of California, Riverside
TIMOTHY ALMY, University of Georgia
the assimilation of ethnic or racial minorities has been a widely
respected theme in American politics, many social scientists have begun to
question the validity of this claim by noting the persistence of ethnic voting
An investigation of ethnic politics in New Haven, for example, chal-
lenged the so-called &dquo;myth of the melting pot&dquo; by positing a theory of &dquo;mobiliza-
tion,&dquo; which suggested that ethnic attachments or loyalties have been perpetuated
by the nomination of major ethnic leaders for high elective offlces.2 Subsequently,
another study asserted that, even though ethnic acculturation has developed in this
country, extensive assimilation has not emerged as a prominent or enduring charac-
teristic of American political behavior.3 Both arguments appeared to introduce
some important qualifications of the concept of assimilation; but both of them also
focused almost exclusively on the persistence of ethnic solidarity rather than upon
the resistance of the established majority to the political demands of ethnic or
racial minorities.
In fact, relatively little attention has been devoted to the investigation of the
sources or effects of antagonism between ethnic voters and dominant segments of
the electorate. This study, however, will seek to explore intergroup conflict and
intragroup cohesion as important features of ethnic o~r racial political controversies.
While historical studies have reported that the initial political strivings of
immigrant groups often aroused the opposition of Yankee residents,4 many ethnic
politicians gained notable success, occasionally on the strength of electoral majori-
ties in some urban areas. In part, perhaps those advances also indicated that
native voters were more willing to grant ethnic groups political recognition than to
accept costly proposals for social and economic assistance. The support of ethnic
candidates by indigenous settlers thus may have reflected an effort to avoid or
divert the threat of rising demands for redistributive programs to alleviate the
plight of the immigrant poor. As Wolfinger has noted, &dquo;Ethnic politics weaken
demands for indivisible welfare policies. This political style has advantages for
Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (Cambridge: M.I.T.
Press, 1963); Duane Lockard, New England State Politics (Princeton: Princeton Uni-
versity Press, 1959) ; Robert A. Dahl, Who Governs? (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1961); Gerald Pomper, "Ethnic and Group Voting in Nonpartisan Municipal
Elections," Public Opinion Quarterly, 30 (Spring 1966), 79-97.
Raymond E. Wolfinger, "The Development and Persistence of Ethnic Voting," American
Political Science Review, 59 (December 1965), 896-908.
Michael Parenti, "Ethnic Politics and the Persistence of Ethnic Identification," American
Political Science Review, 61 (September 1967), 717-26.
See, for example, Oscar Handlin, Boston’s Immigrants, 1790-1865: A Study in Accultura-
tion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941); J. Joseph Huthmacher, Massa-
chusetts People and Politics, 1919-1933 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959) ;
Edgar Litt, The Political Cultures of Massachusetts (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1965);
Lee Benson, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy (New York: Atheneum, 1961).

politicians and for the rich. Recognition of minority groups mght affront Yankee
businessmen, but it was cheaper than socioeconomic reform.&dquo; By satisfying the
symbolic aspirations of deprived minorities without imposing severe burdens on
available resources, the achievements of ethnic politicians may have secured at least
the partial approval of higher status voters who would have strenuously opposed
mounting pressures for basic social and economic changes.
At least one major ethnic or racial minority that has not been fully assimilated
into American political life, however, consists of black citizens.&dquo; Numerous inter-
pretations have been offered for the apparent failure of black voters to secure sig-
nificant political progress or recognition. Those explanations include a &dquo;scarcity
of able and creative leadership,&dquo; internal divisiveness, and an inability to maintain
electoral cohesion or to &dquo;vote along racial lines in a strictly Negro-white contest.&dquo;
Yet, black efforts to acquire increased political influence also have been impeded
by white hostility. James Q. Wilson has commented:
Resistance to Negroes is not, in part, different from the general resistance put up by (for
example) the Irish political leadership of the big city to the demands for political recognition
expressed by Poles, Italians, or Germans. Little is given without a struggle, even when the
maintenance needs of the organization as a whole would seem to require it.... In the case of
the Negro, however, this resistance is intensified by the frequent operation of personal preju-
dice and hostility.’
Yet, this assessment seemed to underestimate the amount of white resistance to
black demands. Racial prejudice or discrimination not only has reinforced white
opposition to black political aspirations, but it also has been a major barrier to the
fulfillment of those objectives.
The growth of black political activity probably has confronted the concept of
assimilation with its most severe political test. During the 1960’s, a few black
politicians were able to win important victories; but, even when they succeeded,
the results of local elections failed to reveal widespread white acceptance of black
political leadership. Although Carl Stokes of Cleveland became one of the first
black mayors of a major city in 1967, he received only 20 percent of the white vote
against his Republican opponent in an urban area that usually goes Democratic
by a margin of 6 to 1 or more.9 In 1969, Stokes increased his support among white
voters by only 4 percent; and, in Detroit, black mayoralty candidate Richard H.
Austin polled less than 18 percent of the vote in predominantly white areas of the
Raymond E. Wolfinger, "Some Consequences of Ethnic Politics," in M. Kent Jennings and
L. Harmon Zeigler, eds., The Electoral Process (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall,
1966), p. 49.
Perhaps white resistance was stiffened by the increasing movement of black citizens to
Northern cities. Harold F. Gosnell, for example, made the following observation about
Chicago more than 30 years ago: "All over the entire city the white voters became
more race conscious as a result of the growing political power of the Negroes. Before
the Negro migration it was easier for a colored man to be elected to a county-wide
position than it has been since." Harold F. Gosnell, Negro Politicians (Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 1935), 369.
James Q. Wilson, Negro Politics (Glencoe: Free Press, 1960), pp. 7, 24.

Ibid., p. 24.
Jeffrey K. Hadden, Louis H. Masotti, and Victor Thiessen, "The Making of the Negro
Mayors, 1967," Trans-Action, 5 (January-February 1968), 21-30; Kenneth G. Wein-
berg, Black Victory (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968).

city. 10 Even in the 1966 election of Edward Brooke, who became the first black
U.S. senator to be chosen by a popular vote, surveys of white voters in Massachu-

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