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Poll Gauges Santa Monica Voters' Take on Latino Candidates and District Elections
By Jorge Casuso
July 23, 2018 -- How confident are Santa Monica voters that former Mayor Bobby Shriver is Latino? How about School Board member Oscar de la Torre? Or Councilmember Gleam Davis?
Four hundred registered voters were asked that question about 15 local public officials, former candidates and activists in a recent poll conducted for the plaintiffs in a Voting Rights lawsuit against the City.
The poll by Sextant Strategies & Research is an effort to establish if voters view Council member Gleam Davis as Latino, said the plaintiffs' attorney Kevin Shenkman.
The City contends that Davis, who says her biological father is Mexican, is one of two Latinos on the Council -- the other is Tony Vazquez ("Santa Monica Has Two Latino Council Members, City Officials Contend," July 10, 2017).
That counters the plaintiffs' claims that Santa Monica's at large voting system discriminates against minority candidates.
"What's important is not self-identification," Shenkman said. "We're trying to figure out if a white electorate is willing to vote for a Latino.
"Gleam is entitled to identify any way she wants, but that doesn't identify what the voter perceives," he said. "Do Santa Monica voters identify Gleam Davis as Latino? Of course they do not."
In a range from 1 ("not at all confident") to 10 ("extremely confident") Davis had a mean of 2.4.
That compared with 2 for Shriver and 8.4 for de la Torre.
Local public figures who scored lower than Davis were former mayor Michael Feinstein (1.8), Mayor Ted Winterer, Councilmember Pam O'Connor and former mayor Bob Holbrook (1.9), Shriver (2.0), Assembleyman Richard Bloom and Councilmember Kevin McKeown (2.1) and Terry O'Day (2.2).
Those whom voters were highly certain were Latinos were Vazquez (8.7), de la Torre (8.4), Roberto Gomez, a former member of the citizen's finance committee (8.5), former Council candidate Donna Alvarez (8.0) and former Council candidates Josefina Aranda (7.5) and Maria Loya, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The poll also gauged voters' support for district elections, the method sought by the plaintiffs.
Of those polled, 27 percent "strongly support" district elections and another 27 percent "somewhat support" the system.
Fifteen percent "strongly" oppose districts, while an equal percentage "somewhat" oppose them. Another 16 percent don't know or refused to answer.
"What surprised me was the number of Santa Monica voters that preferred district elections," Shenkman said. "Most people tend to support the status quo. Not here. It was almost two to one."
Of those polled, 69 percent were to some extent convinced district elections would "ensure that every neighborhood has a voice in city government."
Fifty-three percent found it convincing that district elections "split up the city and create competition among Council members and between neighborhoods, rather than maintaining a focus on citywide issues."
Forty-one percent did not find that argument convincing, while 6 percent didn't know or refused to answer.
Of those who responded to the poll, 68 percent were white, 10 percent were Latino, 5 percent were black, 3 percent Asian and the rest were "other" of didn't respond.
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