Before 2000, it was unclear where the growing Latino population in California stood on conservation and environmental issues. Conventional wisdom at the time suggested that unlike labor and education, protecting the environment was simply not a high priority for Latinos. Despite a sizable number of Latino legislators being reliable votes on priority environmental legislation, very few were leaders on the issue and even fewer authored strong environmental bills. In fact, Latino legislators with poor environmental scores often justified their antipathy by arguing that environmental bills were not a priority for their largely Latino constituencies.
But that began to change in 2001 after the CLCV Education Fund conducted a first-ever study on the environmental attitudes of California Latino voters, with particular emphasis on urban Latinos — and in 2012, the CLCV Education Fund conducted a new and updated poll.
Our 2001 poll and subsequent report revealed that Latinos were strongly concerned about air and water quality and other environmental conditions in their communities. Not only did they label the environment a priority issue, they called for a variety of aggressive actions to maintain environmental quality, including toughening environmental laws, bolstering enforcement, creating more parks and redeveloping unsafe areas such as brownfields.
This led to a sudden and dramatic change in the way legislators, especially Latino legislators, prioritized the environment. For example, soon after the reports of the study were conducted, then-state Senator Martha Escutia authored an environmental priority bill to monitor toxic exposures in children to protect public health. Her bill became law.
A decade later, the old conventional wisdom is reversed. With the Latino population continuing to grow, Latinos are largely considered strong environmental voters. A 2010 Los Angeles Times/USC poll on environmental attitudes produced results that continued to demonstrate that Latino voters are environmental voters.
With the 2010 census data showing California Latinos increasingly moving inland and their numbers growing in the Central Valley, CLCV Education Fund conducted a new study to better understand this segment of the Latino population. We anticipate that this new data and subsequently an enhanced understanding of voters’ values will help us encourage better environmental leadership from Central Valley legislators — those elected leaders who have been largely unreliable supporters of the goals of the environmental movement.
The 2012 poll found that two-thirds of Latino voters identify as conservationists and overwhelmingly believe we can “protect the environment and create jobs at the same time.” The statewide survey found Latino voters support “conservation” on a range of issues, believe we can simultaneously protect the environment and create jobs, and personally identify with conservation as a value. This new data leaves no doubt that Latino voters are a core constituency for the conservation and environmental movement here in California. The results will help advocates for the environment and Latino communities more effectively communicate with voters and encourage better environmental leadership from elected leaders who represent this important and growing segment of the electorate.