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A montage of photos: Clockwise from top left: Natalie Masuoka, Lorrie Frasure, Chad Dunn, Darnell Hunt and Matt Barreto.

In election salon, UCLA faculty discuss how to protect the right to vote

A montage of photos: Clockwise from top left: Natalie Masuoka, Lorrie Frasure, Chad Dunn, Darnell Hunt and Matt Barreto.

Clockwise from top left: Natalie Masuoka, Lorrie Frasure, Chad Dunn, Darnell Hunt and Matt Barreto.(Photo Credit: UCLA)

With less than two weeks until the election day, early voter turnout numbers continue to shatter records across the United States. But that doesn’t mean that Republicans or Democrats are ahead or that voters have easy decisions or safe options when it comes to casting their ballots, and that’s particularly true for people of color, according to a panel of UCLA voting rights experts who spoke Oct. 19.

“Right now, the right to vote is under attack,” Matt Barreto, professor of political science and the co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions, told the audience attending the webinar, “Protecting the Right to Vote in the 2020 Presidential Election.”

Barreto was one of four panelists discussing the right to vote that also included Lorrie Frasure, associate professor of political science and acting director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, Natalie Masuoka, chair of the Asian American studies department, and Chad Dunn, co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project. The panel was moderated by Darnell Hunt, dean of UCLA College’s Division of Social Sciences.

“There is a lot of nervousness about the effort to suppress votes,” said Barreto, who is also a professor of Chicana and Chicano and Latin American Studies and is working for the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris campaign. “The response we are seeing to that suppression is that over 27 million people have already voted. The fact that we are seeing such historic records during a pandemic is telling.”

But historic voter turnout doesn’t tell the whole story. This year marks the 55th anniversary of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discriminatory voting practices, but recent court rulings have severely weakened the act. The fundamental right to vote is not a federal law, and in the current political landscape, studies led by Barreto and Dunn note that suppression tactics are on the rise, effectively discouraging people of color to vote.

Frasure noted that Black voters, typically highly engaged in the political process, are more likely to feel their vote will be suppressed, particularly when it comes to mail-in ballots. They also are more likely to believe there will be trouble at the polls.

“In many states, Blacks know their ballot is more likely to be rejected if they mail it in, but there is a real fear about sickness in going out to the polls,” Frasure said. “This is heavy for voters. They are thinking: Am I six feet apart? Is my mask adjusted properly on my nose? They have all of these thoughts as they seek to be a part of the democratic process because they want to see change based on things they’ve seen in their own lives. It’s consequential.”

In terms of the Asian community, the experience may be different, but have no less of an impact.

“In many ways, for Asian Americans they have a different story. This community doesn’t have a longstanding history of seeing trustworthy and equity voting procedures,” said Masuoka, who pointed out that a higher percentage of Asians are immigrants than other minority groups and that more than 70% of whom are adults. “For many, this is their first election, and this is a problem example we’re setting for new voters about what it’s like to participate in American democracy. [Voter suppression tactics] are intimidating our new Americans and preventing them from casting ballots.”

Hunt and Dunn both noted that the notion we are in a post-racial period is not accurate. “We will never be in a place where we don’t need a law protecting the right to vote. Right now, we have more holes in the sail than we’ve ever had [in terms of protecting voting rights], but if we have enough of a wind, we can still be pushed forward. Vote denial only works in close elections. If we have enough people that vote early, we can turn this around.”

But just because early voter turnout is at an all-time high doesn’t mean either side is ahead, said panelists. Frasure pointed out that 90% of Blacks may lean Democratic, but that doesn’t mean they will turn out.

“Voters get complacent and say, ‘Look at the surge in early voting,’ and they decide to sit this one out,” Barreto said. “And none of us who believe in American democracy can afford to sit this one out. We are expecting a big number of votes, and while early numbers are encouraging, they are expected. No side is ahead right now. Don’t get complacent — push your community to get out and vote.”

On a final note, Dunn advocated for unity.

“Everybody’s vote counts,” he said. “The more we communicate that to our neighbors, the more that’s part of our public fabric, the better off we’ll all be as Americans.”

Voting tips:

-Cast your ballot early if you are going to vote by mail or if you plan to drop it off at an official ballot box. Track your ballot in California.

-If you are going vote in person, you will probably have to to stand in line. So wear a mask, bring food and a charged-up cell phone, and ask if friends or family can accompany you.

-Offer to help others fill out their ballot, particularly elderly or young people who have never voted before.

-You can serve a role in the political process: Talk to your neighbors, set up zoom meetings or join text-banking efforts.

This article, written by Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of a Covid-19 fence sign.

Voters in both parties favor caution as cities begin to reopen

A photo of a Covid-19 fence sign.

“Our research has revealed a nation largely in agreement on everything from preventive measures to thoughts about returning to normal activities,” said UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck. (Photo Credit: Sean Brenner)

Over the weekend of May 9–10, many states, including California, began to ease safer-at-home restrictions, allowing some businesses to reopen under strict conditions, and opening some public spaces, including hiking trails and beaches.

Now, a weekly survey co-led by UCLA political science professors Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch has found that Democratic and Republican voters favor the restrictions that were enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19. And by and large, people prefer a cautious approach to getting life back to normal.

The UCLA + Democracy Fund Nationscape survey began adding COVID-19–related questions in March, shortly after businesses, schools and events began shutting down. Topics include Americans’ beliefs, worries and behaviors related to the pandemic. The survey will post results each week on a new coronavirus-specific page of its website.

“Our research has revealed a nation largely in agreement on everything from preventive measures to thoughts about returning to normal activities,” Vavreck said. “Far from the partisan division that has described the last several years, nearly everyone has incorporated precautions against the virus into their daily lives and most people support government interventions to stop its spread.”

The study was quickly noticed by government leaders. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland referenced the findings during remarks on the Senate floor on May 13.

A graphic of the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Survey.

A majority of voters surveyed agree with measures local and state governments have implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Faded dots represent results from previous weeks. Data collected March 19 through April 29, 2020.) (Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Survey)

Researchers also surveyed respondents about the economic pain caused by COVID-19. Of respondents who earn less than $25,000 per year, 26% reported that their income has been reduced significantly due to the crisis, and 24% have lost their primary source of income entirely. Among those earning more than $85,000 annually, 23% reported significant income loss but just 8% indicated that they had lost their income entirely.

► Read more about UCLA + Democracy Fund Nationscape

Vavreck is an expert on presidential elections; her previous research has shown that a good economy is often critical to a president’s reelection chances.

“As we head into the presidential election, we will continue to chart how the government’s response to the pandemic will affect the way voters view an incumbent president presiding over an unexpected downturn in the American economy,” Vavreck said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of students in a course on the U.S. Census taught by Professor Natalie Masuoka. From left: Milagros Martinez Stordeur, Kaumron Eidgahy, Iris Hinh and Amy Bugwadia.

For census season, these UCLA students want to make sure everyone counts

A photo of students in a course on the U.S. Census taught by Professor Natalie Masuoka. From left: Milagros Martinez Stordeur, Kaumron Eidgahy, Iris Hinh and Amy Bugwadia.

Students in a course on the U.S. Census taught by Professor Natalie Masuoka. From left: Milagros Martinez Stordeur, Kaumron Eidgahy, Iris Hinh and Amy Bugwadia. (Photo Credit: Agustina Martinez Stordeur)

Two civic-minded UCLA undergraduate students have turned one of their courses into a platform for encouraging others to participate in the U.S. Census.

Amy Bugwadia and Kaumron Eidgahy were inspired to action by a UCLA course on the census taught by UCLA political science professor Natalie Masuoka. The course, which ended in March, required students to undertake a community engagement project related to the census.

Bugwadia and Eidgahy both came away with a new appreciation for the need to boost participation in Los Angeles County, which historically has been undercounted in the survey. Both have served as UCLA resident assistants, and one of their efforts has centered on communicating the importance of the census to students who have relocated because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the campus’s recent shift to remote learning.

The California Complete Count committee, a state entity helping to conduct the census, has encouraged students who had planned to be living in UCLA residence halls as of April 1 to count themselves as campus residents.

“Whether or not students are able to actually be on campus right now, UCLA has been our home for years, and making sure we get counted will benefit [students] who will be here 10 years from now,” Bugwadia said.

Bugwadia and Eidgahy are both second-generation immigrants, and both have adopted roles as trusted messengers of political and cultural information for their extended families.

“I am extremely passionate about making sure people of color are counted,” Eidgahy said. “I have this tradition with my mom. Every time there is an election, we sit down and spend a couple of hours going through the ballot. I saw this very clear parallel with the census, even though I’d never had that experience before.”

For Masuoka’s course, Bugwadia and Eidgahy decided their work in the community would focus on inspiring high schoolers in two of Los Angeles County’s vulnerable neighborhoods to become trusted messengers for their families and communities. So the UCLA students developed a curriculum and presented it with their class team at two San Fernando Valley high schools, El Camino Real Charter and Canoga Park, shortly before the county’s safer at home protocols went into effect.

While it has historically been difficult to produce accurate census counts for Los Angeles County, Masuoka said the coronavirus pandemic is likely making it even more challenging in 2020.

“We live in one of the most hard-to-count counties in the country, thanks to a confluence of factors,” she said. “It is a populous county and is geographically spread out, which means counting is exacerbated by the multiple socioeconomic and racial groups within it. And there’s every indication that it will be even harder this year.”

Dispelling myths and fears is a big job for families’ “trusted messengers,” especially in immigrant communities, said Bugwadia, a fourth-year student majoring in political science and minoring in disability studies.

“Being a trusted messenger particularly important in the current political climate,” she said. “It can be frustrating and maybe even terrifying for a lot of folks who come from underrepresented communities, but those are the communities who really do benefit from the census.”

Bugwadia said the campaign was aimed not only at students, but also at teachers. “They, too, are trusted messengers. That was our experience growing up in the school system.”

Eidgahy is a third-year student majoring in political science and communication. His family emigrated from Iran, and he has spent time recently quelling their fears about the census by explaining the provisions for how census information is used — including that only non-personally identifiable data is released to government institutions or outside organizations. And he explained the Title 13 confidentiality protections that were put into place after census information was used to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II.

Bugwadia and Eidgahy have continued to make virtual connections with campus and local community groups as part of a spring quarter independent study project under Masuoka’s tutelage. Both students are aspiring social scientists, and they recognize the importance of accurate census data for people working at research institutions like UCLA.

Other students in Masuoka’s course focused on efforts to reach different populations, including people with disabilities and individuals experiencing homelessness. The students made videos, stickers and graphics to promote participation in the census, and they collected a total of nearly 2,000 pledge cards from community members who promised to complete the questionnaire.

Those cards were meant to be displayed in Kerckhoff Hall during spring quarter as a way to inspire more people to complete the census questionnaire. Fortunately, Masuoka’s syllabus for the class had already included a plan to create a website that would house information and images from the students’ projects and continue their pledge effort.

The course materials and website were funded through an instructional improvement program grant from the UCLA Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Masuoka said it was important to her to create a politically engaged learning environment that lent itself to a range of political viewpoints.

“The census is nonpartisan; it’s something everyone can and should care about regardless of their position on politics or government policies,” she said. “The class went even better than I could have imagined. I’m new to UCLA and this was a great example of the kind of talented students we have here.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Lynn Vavreck.

UCLA political scientists launch one of largest-ever public opinion surveys for run-up to 2020

As the nation heads into another contentious presidential campaign, what will drive people’s choices? What sacrifices are Americans willing to make to see their preferred politicians take office and their policy preferences take hold?

UCLA political science professors Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch plan to tackle those questions through the 2020 election with an ambitious data-gathering and analysis project called Nationscape. The effort is a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Democracy Fund, and the surveys are being fielded by Lucid, a New Orleans-based market research firm.

Every week until the end of 2020, Nationscape will survey 6,250 Americans, asking them to choose between two groups of policy positions and political attributes, among hundreds of other questions.

What makes Nationscape unique is the way it asks respondents to make choices. The survey includes 41 different policy statements and eight hypothetical attributes of potential candidates, all of which are randomized to appear in two sets of issues that voters must choose between. For example, respondents could be asked to choose one of the following sets of statements:

Each bundle of policies and outcomes could contain views that respondents disagree with, mixed with ideas they favor, but Vavreck said posing the questions that way will give researchers a better sense of what really makes the electorate tick.

“We designed the project to learn what people’s priorities are when they are forced to choose among states of the world they want to live in,” she said. “This will help us sort out what is really important to people who, in traditional surveys, tell us they ‘strongly agree’ with all sorts of issues. That response doesn’t really tell us how people will vote if a choice has to be made, and voting is all about making a choice.”

Researchers will share insights and analysis from the surveys regularly throughout election season on Nationscape’s website. By November 2020, the team will have completed a half million interviews — including at least 1,000 interviews in every congressional district.

“Our measurement approach, coupled with the massive scope of the project, will allow us to track both attitude change and shifts in the impact or importance of issues and candidate traits over time and space,” Vavreck said.

Data gathering began in late July. Among the initial findings: Even when Democrats and Republicans agree that children shouldn’t be separated from their parents at the southern border, that there should be a pathway to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as children, or that the size of the military should be preserved, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to concede on the other issues to preserve their preferred stances on immigration issues, while Republicans are more likely to make tradeoffs to preserve the military.

The results also hint at how people’s priorities change — or don’t — in relation to current events. For example, Vavreck said, few people changed their opinions about the need for universal background checks for gun purchases after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“But the importance of that issue changed quite a bit,” she said. “It became significantly more important to people in choosing policy packages after the shootings, even though only about 1.8 percent of them changed their positions on the issue.”

Vavreck is the co-author of critically acclaimed books about the two most recent presidential elections, “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election” and “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.” She is UCLA’s Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy.

Tausanovitch, an expert on political representation, is the co-principal investigator — along with Chris Warsaw of George Washington University — of the American Ideology Project, which characterizes the conservativism and liberalism of states and voting districts through a 275,000-person survey.

Tausanovitch combed through studies, programs and policies to develop the lists of scenarios that respondents are confronting in the Nationscape surveys. He’s interested in the tradeoffs people are willing to make based on their political leanings and where they come from.

“Data is already demonstrating to us the way people’s attitudes and priorities change in response to events taking place in the country and showing us how Democrats and Republicans prioritize things differently, even when they agree on policies,” Tausanovitch said. “This helps to explain how Americans agree on many things, but also illustrates that their priorities are different.”

The overarching goal of Nationscape is to engender more informed and productive political deliberations, said Joe Goldman, president of the Democracy Fund.

“Nationscape goes beyond horse race polls and battleground states and gets to the real issues that are driving voters and their decisions,” he said. “The unparalleled size and scope of this survey will help us understand how opinions differ across small geographic areas and groups of voters in a way that isn’t possible with traditional surveys, providing a deeper understanding of the electorate in this vital election.”

By the end of the election cycle, Nationscape will have reached people in every state and congressional district, America through Lucid’s platform.

“We were very eager to partner with the UCLA team and help apply their expertise on a scale that reflects the complexity of contemporary American politics,” said Patrick Comer, Lucid’s founder and CEO.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA faculty voice: Americans tend to be married to their political party

People often ask me “who these people are” — those who elected Donald J. Trump or those who voted for Hillary Clinton. They’ll ask, “What’s the single best description of Trump supporters?” My answer often disappoints them.

Where Are They Now: Cailin Crockett

Cailin Crockett ’10 made history as one of UCLA’s first Astin scholars, an undergraduate scholarship program supporting hands-on experience in civic engagement. We featured the Astin scholars in the College Report in 2010 and recently caught up with Cailin to find out what she’s been up to.

Cailin Crockett is out to change the world for the better, particularly on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence—and she credits UCLA with igniting her passion for activism and public service.

“UCLA encouraged me to become a compassionate, conscientious and global citizen,” she said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Crockett has carved out a niche in public service focusing on policy in support of women and girls. The political science alumna most recently served as policy advisor in the Office of Vice President Biden, where she worked to strengthen government policies that address the human rights of underserved trauma survivors in the U.S. and around the world. She has also been a special assistant for gender policy and elder rights for the Department of Health and Human Services, and a gender specialist in the Bureau for Policy and Program Support at the United Nations Development Program.

She said that her UCLA education, both inside and outside the classroom, laid the strongest possible foundation for her career.

“UCLA is where I honed the skills that I use every single day in my work, especially critical thinking and the ability to analyze a large amount of information about an issue, take in the key points, and advocate a defensible position,” she said.

Crockett said that she saw UCLA as a place to immerse herself in learning and discover her passions. She was particularly drawn to the study of political theory for its distillation of concepts such as human rights and equality into a set of logically arguable points. Her political science courses gave her an appreciation for the power of research, data and statistics to inform and persuade.

And she recalled a freshman cluster course on the environment taught by professors from all over campus, who “urged us to use our privilege in getting a top education to make the world a better place.”

During her sophomore year, Crockett was selected to represent UCLA at a forum in France at which youth from NATO-member countries interacted with youth from Afghanistan, in order to deepen understanding about what was at stake in the war against the Taliban. She later went on to earn a master’s degree in Politics from the University of Oxford.

Crockett, who minored in Spanish and studied in Spain for a semester, said that her language proficiency has benefited her international work. But it was her civic engagement experience in her senior year that ignited her passion for activism and feminism.

For her project, Crockett focused on the causes of homelessness, specifically the impact of domestic violence and veterans’ issues. She accompanied community workers providing financial literacy and life skills workshops at the VA and a women’s center in downtown L.A. There, she interviewed scores of people about their journeys in and out of homelessness.

“It was incredible to be immersed in the experiences of these vulnerable populations,” she said. “It’s even more meaningful now because of my work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, many of whom are homeless as a result.”

Crockett, an Alumni Scholar and third-generation Bruin, said that having chosen a career in public service, she is particularly proud that she graduated from a highly respected public university with a reputation for local and global leadership.

“No matter where I go in the world, people know about UCLA,” she said.

UCLA faculty voice: Putin is Trump’s most dangerous best friend

In the 1962 political thriller “The Manchurian Candidate,” a hostile government uses covert measures and secret agents in an elaborate plot to get its favored candidate elected president of the United States. The scenario seemed fanciful even at the height of the Cold War.

UCLA professors reflect on how Trump defied the polls

Going into Election Day, all the major polls and news organizations like FiveThirtyEight, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times predicted that Donald Trump would lose the presidential race by several percentage points to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, and also, more importantly, lose the Electoral College.

Video: UCLA scholars on the presidential race

UCLA faculty, visiting scholars and political thinkers continue to grapple with a contentious presidential campaign that includes “two of the most unpopular candidates in American history,” as Bill Schneider, longtime political analyst and current visiting professor in the UCLA Department of Communication Studies put it during a recent campus event related to the election.

UCLA political science students witness historic Brexit vote

While Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day this weekend, 68 UCLA political science students are traveling through Europe and witnessing first-hand the dramatic results of Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union.