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Latinos, Asians more worried about environment than whites, poll finds

The survey examined attitudes on such issues as global warming, air pollution and tainted soil and water.

November 20, 2010|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times

California's Latino and Asian voters are significantly more concerned about core environmental issues, including global warming, air pollution and contamination of soil and water, than white voters, according to the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll.

For example, 50% of Latinos and 46% of Asians who responded to the poll said they personally worry a great deal about global warming, compared with 27% of whites. Two-thirds of Latinos and 51% of Asians polled said they worry a great deal about air pollution, compared with 31% of whites.


FOR THE RECORD:
Times/USC poll: An article in the Nov. 20 LATExtra section about a Los Angeles Times/USC poll of Latino and Asian voters' views on environmental issues identified the Southern California director of the California League of Conservation Voters as David Smallwood. His name is David Allgood. —

Similarly, 85% of Latinos and 79% of Asians said they worry a great or a fair amount about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste, compared with 71% of whites.

The poll surveyed 1,689 adults by telephone. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

"Latinos and Asians are far more likely to be registered as Democrats than whites, and Democrats hold these views more closely," said Peyton Craighill, who supervised the poll.

Beyond that, their feelings reflect a fact of life in California: "Environmental hazards are a part of the everyday lives of Asian American and Latino voters who are disproportionately represented in locations with high levels of pollution and contaminants," said Jane Junn, a professor of political science at USC and research director of the poll.

"While these results may at first seem surprising, this survey by the L.A. Times and USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences allowed voters to answer questions in their native languages — Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean," she added. "And a large number of Asian American and Latino voters were interviewed in order to increase the reliability of the findings."

California has one of the nation's largest concentrations of minorities living near hazardous chemical wastes and air pollution produced by refineries, port operations, freeway traffic and railroads. An analysis of census data by researchers at four universities for the United Church of Christ showed that 1.2 million people in the greater Los Angeles area, 91% of them minorities, live less than two miles from facilities handling hazardous materials such as chrome-plating businesses and battery recycling centers.

Latinos make up 37% of the state's population, Asians are 12.5%, whites are 41.5% and African Americans are 5.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. African Americans were included in the survey, but the number of people questioned was too low to analyze reliably.

The survey's findings are no surprise to environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society and the California League of Conservation Voters. The groups' own surveys have shown that Latinos and Asians — two of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the state — share serious concerns about the environment.

These organizations have historically relied mostly on white constituencies for donations and influence in crafting and promoting legislation aimed at protecting the environment and cleaning up pollution.

Now they are aggressively reaching out to ethnically diverse communities to gain financial support and inspire a new generation of environmental stewards. Because these communities are more directly affected by pollution, the strategy makes sense, the groups say.

"We spend the vast majority of our resources in districts that are dominated by, or have substantial, Latino and Asian populations," said David Smallwood, Southern California director of the California League of Conservation Voters. "Their concerns will help us build broader support for aggressively dealing with global warming."

Dan Taylor, director of public policy for California Audubon, agreed.

"The poll's findings are a clear expression of the direct threat environmental carelessness presents to the health of these families and their communities," he said. "If we are going to get anywhere with an environmental or wildlife-focused agenda we have to partner with the Latino leadership in the Legislature, or we're not going to win. It's that simple."

State Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) suggested that Latinos and Asians are also concerned about environmental issues because "they either came from countries such as Mexico or China where there are serious pollution issues, or they have relatives who did. They don't want neighborhoods in our country to be like the ones they left back home."

Poll respondents who agreed in advance to be interviewed generally supported Mendoza's basic argument.

"It's getting bad out there when it comes to pollution, global warming and clean water," said Elizabeth Olivares, 24, of Stockton. "We are destroying our world little by little. I have a little brother and two nephews and worry about their future."

About 69% of Latino voters and 49% of Asian voters polled said they personally worry a great deal about having enough water to meet future needs, compared with 40% of white voters, the poll found.

Jason Padilla, 26, of Riverside said he was certain that minorities would become increasingly engaged in environmental issues.

"We're stepping up and saying, 'Hey, we live, hike, camp, fish and play here too,' " Padilla said. "We're getting involved to help make changes that are morally and ethically right and benefit everybody."

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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