Growing diversity in San Jose could signal rise in progressive politics
San Jose city employees Sinh Tang, Hilda Morales and Diana Garcia canvass a San Jose neighborhood Sept. 2, 2020. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    The new census data released this month paints a clear picture of the rapidly growing diversity in Santa Clara County, and those numbers could signal a rise in progressive politics.

    With the white population plummeting for the first time in the nation, the Asian population is now the largest ethnic group the county. Asians represent 38.9% of the total population in the county.

    The white population trails almost 10 percentage point behind at 28.7%, followed by the Latinx population at 25.2%, data released last week shows.

    The increasingly diversified population in the county—and in San Jose—could give a new edge to more liberal and progressive candidates, potentially shaking up the local political landscape, some experts say.

    “Latinx has turned out progressive candidates consistently, and Asian voters have been doing the same in more recent years,” said Terry Christensen, a retired San Jose State University political science professor. “If these numbers translate to voter turnout, that should be an advantage to liberal candidates.”

    From 2010 to 2020, Santa Clara County added 154,617 residents to its population, totaling more than 1.9 million residents and making it the sixth most populous county in the state, the data shows. That’s an 8.68% increase in 10 years, surpassing California’s growth rate of of 6.1% but not neighboring Alameda County’s rate of 11.39%, according to a San José Spotlight analysis.

    San Jose hangs on to its spot as the 10th most populous city in the country, despite seeing the largest drop in population last year. The city saw a growth rate of 7.1% between 2010 and 2020.

    Mirroring a trend seen across the country, the population of white residents in Santa Clara County shrank over the past decade, dropping by a whopping 25.6%, or 214,000 people. California also saw a decline of more than 5 million white people, or a 24% drop, data shows.

    Multiracial and Asian populations in Santa Clara rose significantly, with growth rates of 140% and 33%, respectively. As of April 2020, Asians are the fastest growing ethnic group in California and comprise the largest ethnic group in Santa Clara County—with 759,030 people.

    Multiracial populations skyrocketed in the county—and across the country—after the Census Bureau adjusted its questions to better capture the population's growing diversity. Santa Clara County had a record high of 209,468 people who are multiracial compared to roughly 87,000 people in 2010. Multiracial is defined by the census as two or more races.

    The Latinx population in Santa Clara County also grew modestly at a 1.7% growth rate, adding approximately 8,000 residents from 2010 to 2020. Still, there are around 487,000 Latinx residents in the county, and the Latinx population is the third largest ethnic group in the South Bay.

    If the 2014 mayoral election had happened now, Christensen said Mayor Sam Liccardo might have lost to union-friendly opponent, Sen. Dave Cortese. Liccardo won by a mere 2,750 votes in the runoff election.

    "If these numbers translate to new voters and more voter turnout—and those are big ifs—Cortese would have won," Christensen said.

    The latest batch of census data, delayed by months due to the pandemic and legal obstacles posed by the previous president, provides a sweeping view of America's racial and ethnic makeup in a decade.

    “Our analysis of the 2020 census results show that the U.S. population is much more multiracial, and more racially and ethnically diverse than what we measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, director of race and ethnicity outreach for the Census Bureau’s population division.

    The release of the demographic data also signals the kickoff of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, which will dictate how political power and federal funding will go in the next 10 years.

    "It's important to understand the makeup of the communities," Christensen said. "This data will shape representation."

    Both San Jose and Santa Clara County are racing to redraw district lines to meet California's deadline of Dec. 15.

    The area's increasing diversity is no surprise to local experts. But the population changes, depending on where they happened, might result in a shift in voter demographic in districts that are historically white dominant, Christensen said.

    "We might see District 4 with more Asian voters and District 5 with more Latinx voters," he said. "That will be a big impact."

    The growing Asian population in Santa Clara County could also signal a turning point for more Asian representation in local politics, Christensen said. None of the 10 San Jose councilmembers are Asian, despite the city's large Asian population. Supervisor Otto Lee is the sole Asian lawmaker on the Board of Supervisors.

    "We see the Asian population growing, but not Asian representation," Christensen said. "People should pay attention on how this is going to play out."

    Census officials noted that while the data is not flawless, the demographic data met the department's standards. In Santa Clara County, 77.7% of the population self-responded to the census count, which is among the highest rates in the country.

    “While no census is perfect, we are confident that today’s redistricting results will meet our high data quality standard,” acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said.

    Many advocates and experts feared the pandemic and plans to include a citizenship question could have resulted in an undercount of communities of color across the country. The Census Bureau is scheduled to release over- and undercounting rates in early 2022.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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