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The previous part of this report concluded by highlighting the role that narratives casting government as inherently entangled with elite interests play in discouraging civic action for change. Like any narrative must, these rest on particular ideas about who and what “government” actually is or includes. So what are those ideas? And importantly, what other contending ideas about government and civic action are out there, and how might they fuel narrative and organizing strategies that enliven a sense of agency rather than hampering it?

This final part examines Blueprint for Belonging’s qualitative and quantitative findings from the Inland Empire in order to answer these questions. In particular, we examine what inland residents think about how power is exercised, who has access to it, and where that leaves everyone else. We also show that decisions about whether or not to vote often have less to do with who is on the ballot than with voters’ views of themselves. As elsewhere in the report, our focus is on Latinx, Black, young, and other residents who are often pushed to the margins when power is at stake, but without whose equal representation we will continue to fall short of democratic ideals.

Thinking about “Government”: Distant and Powerful

As a starting point for understanding how residents think about issues of power, representation, and their access to both, we asked participants in our focus groups and interviews, “When you hear the word ‘government,’ what comes up for you?” As might be expected, this broad prompt led to a wide range of responses across the 72 individuals who heard it. But there were also some notable patterns. In the associations participants raised, we see a picture of simultaneous government absence and omnipresence.

The most common association that the term government brought to participants’ minds was with elected officials and politicians—whether specific individuals or generic offices. In the discussions of politicians that followed, inland residents depicted government as insular and myopic—motivated by “its” own narrow concerns that have little to do with serving average people. In a number of cases, this type of description began with the primary association of “government” with “politics.” If this association seems banal, it is important to appreciate the colloquial sense in which the term politics was being used. By “politics,” here study participants referred to a system presumed to be governed by exclusive relationships (“who knows who”), unwritten rules, petty quarrels, self-interested dealings, and outright corruption. It was the “politics” of scornful statements like “it’s all politics,” and “too much politics.” Based on our study, where government is discussed in the Inland Empire’s Latinx and Black communities, these sentiments are not far behind.

Related to the insularity of government in residents’ narratives is its disconnection from average people and communities. Study participants regularly spoke of government as “out of touch,” or unable to “get” the problems of people like themselves. Interestingly, discussions about “who benefits from inequality” were at least as likely to lead to talk of elected officials as to talk of corporate elites. Although, as Part IV discussed, residents tended to leave the wealthiest Americans out of their discussions of inequality, multiple interviewees mentioned the $175,000 annual salary of members of the U.S. Congress—which had been in the news at the time—and expressed displeasure about it.


We have to bridge the gap of the community [and government], and they [government officials] need to drill down and know about their communities…


It’s hard [because] a lot of times, the government officials are... [pause] They’re on a different level.


They don’t have the same problems.


Yeah… It’s like the person that’s teaching you how to lose weight, but they’ve never had a weight problem. I mean, so, if you’ve never had a real struggle problem, and you went to Yale...


How can you give me a program?

— African-American women focus group

Government’s apparent distance from their lived realities made inland residents pessimistic about its likelihood to make positive change for low- and middle-income families. Again, this pessimism was driven by the centering of politicians—especially those holding federal offices—in conceptions of what government is. It is worth noting that several participants made reference to the Trump administration specifically. The then-president cast a long shadow over thinking about “government;” surely this is true for any president, though perhaps not as much as for Trump. When his administration was named as emblematic of government, study participants emphasized the need to lower expectations, and to place energy elsewhere—turning away from government, for example, to focus on strengthening community bonds and mutual support against attacks that Trump was seen as unleashing.97

Still, the problem that low- and middle-income Inland Empire residents identified as a “disconnect” between government and community realities was not expressed as unique to Trump. At most, the then-president was treated as a particularly egregious or brazen example of government as wealthy, self-serving, and unconstrained.98 Because “it” is out of touch, residents explained, government does not appreciate the different kinds of needs for support and services that exist across diverse populations. This leads to a “mismatch” in what government offers, which is usually oriented toward keeping the least well-off afloat, but not helping people on the cusp of upward mobility to take the next step. Here again, the trope of wasteful “welfare” spending that conservative politicians have pushed for decades sometimes reappeared, woven into an overall narrative that government only cares for the most poor and the most rich.

In all of this—and across focus groups and interviews—“government” was almost always discussed as external to, other than, or not a part of “the community.” The separation of the two was treated as self-evident. Accordingly, residents rarely spoke of any part of government as “ours,” but for a few exceptions when a city council or other local civil servants were mentioned as part of “the community.”

Primero, cuando escuchas esa palabra, ‘gobierno,’ ¿en qué piensas?
First, when you hear that word, ‘government,’ what do you think of?

“En Trump.” [laughs]
Of Trump. 

En Trump. ¿Por qué? 
Of Trump. Why?

“Pues es que él es, ahorita en este momento… es la persona que nos está cambiando todo… Y gracias a él, tenemos ya mucha gente que nos está discriminando. Y por eso, cuando dices ‘gobierno,’ pues es Trump. Es la manzana podrida que está pudriendo a todo lo demás.”
Well, it’s that he is, right now in this moment… he is the person that is changing everything on us… And thanks to him, now we have many people that are discriminating against us. And that’s why, when you say ‘government,’ well, it’s Trump. He is the rotten apple that’s spoiling everything else.

— Latina woman, 51, Jurupa Valley


There was not strong evidence that Inland Empire residents’ attitudes toward government was changing substantially in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we fielded our survey of the region in July 2020, government efforts to mitigate the virus’s spread while providing some targeted relief had begun to be evaluated through partisan lenses, but were still not deeply partisanized. Still, only 32 percent of Inland Empire residents reported that they felt “more grateful” toward state and local government leaders “like your mayor or governor” since the pandemic began.99 More—39 percent—responded that they felt “more frustrated” with state and local government since the pandemic. These numbers remained essentially the same in another poll run in the Inland Empire toward the end of the two-month winter surge in late-January 2021.100  

Not all reactions to the idea of government led to talk of elected officials though. In many cases, study participants spoke more broadly of governmental structures. Interestingly, when they did, government was characterized not by its distance and disconnectedness, but by its all-encompassing presence across myriad aspects of everyday life. In this pattern, “government” evoked laws, policies, and regulations that organize residents’ activities; some study participants expressed this as “control,” or government being “everywhere.” Even where talk of government restriction and regulation did not paint them as quite this absolute, the power dynamic was most often expressed as unidirectional—as “it” (government) acting upon “us.” As a 31-year-old Corona resident who identified as bi-racial put it, what government brings up is, “Just being in charge. They’re govern-ing. So they’re in charge. Like they’re the ones who get to make the rules and call the shots. And what do you do? You have to abide by it.”

Notable for its absence from these accounts was the idea that the power which government exercises is representative of, or responsive to, residents. These omissions underscore the extent to which talk of government as disconnected expresses the perception of hierarchical power as much as distance. In this sense, being at once absent and encompassing is no contradiction at all.101  

To gauge how widespread is the feeling that government is unresponsive to average Inland Empire residents, our July 2020 survey probed a particularly strong version of the sentiment. Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “People like me don’t have any say about what government does.” Overall, 26 percent of respondents said that they “strongly agreed” and another 26 percent “somewhat agreed,” meaning that slightly over half of adults in the inland region believe they have no say in what government does. This breakdown was roughly the same across ethno-racial groups, gender, age, and partisan identity (if any).

Finally, a number of our focus group participants and interviewees said that what the term government evokes for them is taxes. This is not surprising, but it is notable that there was far less mention of the public goods and services enabled by tax revenue. Interestingly, where services came to participants’ minds, discussions tended to shift from talk of “government” to talk of “the city” or “the county.” Here again, we see that “government” has something of a brand problem, with negative associations sticking to the term much more readily than positive ones.

Then-president Trump is seen from the side as he raises his right arm. He is cast in a dark red and black hue and overlaid by photocopy texture. In the background is a red-tinted Capitol building and large stack of $100 bills, both cast over by Trump's shadow.
Former president Donald Trump’s actions from the White House cast a long shadow over how some people of color in the Inland Empire thought about “government” in general.

Feeling Uninformed

In addition to widespread negative sentiment toward government as “disconnected” from average people, a significant share of Inland Empire residents discount their own capacity as potential political actors. Most disturbing is that, unlike with the view that “people like me have no say,” those who seem to discount themselves have distinct demographic characteristics and policy views that may, as a result, be underrepresented.

Our survey asked Inland Empire residents to say whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “I think most people are better informed about politics and government than I am.” Sixty percent said that they disagree, i.e. that they think they are at least as well informed as most people. The remaining respondents were split between 27 percent who think they are less informed and 13 percent who don’t know. There are no major variations in this breakdown across Latinx, Black, and white resident subgroups. However, women are notably less likely than men to assert that they are at least as well informed as most people. Whereas 69 percent of men make that assertion (by disagreeing with the above statement), barely over half (52 percent) of women do.102 This gender disparity is consistent across all ethno-racial identities. Younger Inland Empire residents are also more likely to doubt their political knowledge, with a particularly sharp divide between those under 40 years old and those ages 50 and above. Finally, Spanish-dominant Latinxs were the group most likely to say that most people are better informed than themselves, with 59 percent agreeing with the statement.103  

Younger generations and women express greater doubt about their knowledge and self-efficacy in the political field.
Figure 12:
Inland Empire residents’ assessments of how well informed they are about politics and government, by gender and age group
Responses to the question: “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘I think most people are better informed about politics and government than I am’?”

These discrepancies in who considers themselves “less informed” clearly track lines of marginalization in U.S. political life. It was beyond the scope of our survey to test whether and how respondents’ self-assessments aligned with, or diverged from, their actual knowledge. But numerous other scholars have carried out such experiments. It is a robust finding in psychological literature that men in general are much more likely to be overconfident—overestimating their knowledge.104 Additional research provides evidence of the negative impact of sexist stereotypes on women’s performance of political knowledge specifically.105 When we find women reporting that they are “less informed” at much higher rates than men, then, it is difficult not to interpret it as the internalization of a pervasive culture of sexism and denigration of women’s knowledge and agency, especially in the political realm. Similarly, young people and those whose strongest competency is in a language other than English are regularly told in myriad ways that they know too little, and that their knowledge is less valuable or insufficiently refined. 

If Inland Empire residents who believe they are less well informed than their peers are in turn discouraged from participating politically, the consequences would go beyond demographic underrepresentation. It would also lead to certain views being underrepresented in political debate, and at the ballot box. This is because the group of residents in the Inland Empire who discount their own knowledge on politics and government is also distinct as to policy preferences, especially related to the role of government in securing material needs. For example, whereas 63 percent of survey respondents who believe they are at least as well informed as most people support a government-ensured basic income program, 82 percent of those who believe they are less informed support the same. More significantly, a 65 percent majority of those who believe themselves less informed say it is government’s responsibility to reduce income inequality, compared to a 40 percent minority of others. 

Last, these two groups also diverge on the question of whether government should provide more or fewer services in areas like healthcare and education. Respondents were asked to give a score of 1 to 7, where “1” meant far fewer services and “7” meant far more. Of those respondents who believe they are at least as well informed as most people, 29 percent chose “7,” while 24 percent were at the other end of the spectrum, choosing either “1” or “2.” For those who said they are less informed on government and politics, in contrast, 39 percent chose “7” and just 5 percent chose “1” or “2”—that government should provide far less services. 

We cannot know whether inland residents who feel they are less informed sat out the 2020 elections at higher rates than those who believe themselves to be well informed. But at least as of summer 2020, they were more disposed to do so. First, there is substantial overlap in the Inland Empire survey between those who think others are better informed about politics and those who agree with the statement, “Most elections don’t really matter that much. Things stay the same for people like me no matter who is voted into office.” Further, though large majorities across all subgroups in the survey said they planned to vote in the November 2020 elections, the share was notably smaller for those who discounted their political knowledge. In fact, an even larger share of those who believe they are less informed than others (29 percent) were uncertain about whether they would vote than the share of those who think elections don’t matter much (25 percent).106 Assuming this uncertainty translated into non-participation, we can see how individuals’ low esteem in their political knowledge can impact how views on government’s role and responsibilities are represented by the final voting electorate. In the next section, we examine in greater detail how confidence and ideas about being political and knowledgeable shape Latinx, Black, and especially young Inland Empire residents’ considerations about whether or not to vote.

Weighing Whether to Vote

Voting is not the only expression of a person’s political engagement, much less the only way to participate civically. Still, it is a significant one, and understanding how individuals think about whether and how to vote offers a window into their broader dispositions toward civic participation. Notably, of all of the 25 interviewees with whom our team spoke about voting, none blew off the activity as irrelevant or unimportant. And this was not due to our sample being unusually politically active. Of the 25, twenty said that they were eligible to vote, but only three said that they cast ballots in every election. The rest reported either that they vote most of the time, only in presidential years, or occasionally; or in four of the twenty cases, that they are not registered despite being eligible.

Among the handful who were eligible but not registered, interviewees expressed doubts about the integrity of the electoral system. This included questions about ballots’ vulnerability to manipulation, criticisms of the anti-democratic character of the Electoral College, and more general doubts about whether votes cast actually translate into voters’ policy preferences. But these types of comments were outliers in the Inland Empire—notably less prominent than in other locales in which our team has carried out research in partnership with voter engagement initiatives.107

More commonly, interviewees’ discussions of how they decide whether or not to vote began with talk not of the electoral system, but of how they see themselves. They explained non-participation principally in terms of their identities and insecurities around being informed.108 A number of interviewees began with explicit statements of identity: that they do not think of themselves as political; they are not that type of person. These statements overlapped with the still more-common pattern in which interviewees cast doubt on their preparedness to vote. They said that usually they do not participate because they don’t know enough, and therefore would not be able to make informed decisions. Such comments were so recurrent among our young interviewees that it is worth considering some exemplary quotes below.

Examples of respondents questioning their preparedness to vote

“I don’t always pay attention to the news…  If I voted in the local elections, I feel like I would need to be informed and I don’t take the time to do that.”
— African American woman, 30, Corona 

“Local [elections], I am terrible at. Usually, I think the packet of information that’s mailed to me is so… thick and so dense. I know my way around a stack of paperwork, but it’s so difficult to understand some of the time. Rather than voting wrong, I’m just like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to go at all,’ which is not right.”
— Latina woman, 31, Montclair

“I actually haven’t been [voting], only because I didn’t feel that I was educating myself enough into knowing the candidates or the bills or whatever. So I haven’t really been active in that area, but just because I don’t want to just put random things. I want to know what I’m getting myself into.”
— Latina woman, 29, Hesperia 

“[F]or me personally, I think it’s a lot of the verbiage and the words in politics that I don’t understand.”
—  Latino man, 31, San Bernardino

“[S]ometimes like I’ll try to Google stuff and like educate myself [but] it’s kind of hard because some of that stuff, the way they word it... you think that you voted for one thing and then in reality you’re not, because they messed up some words. And so you, like, you might’ve just fucked yourself.”
— Bi-racial man, 31, Corona

A torn "I Voted" sticker set in red on a blue halftone dotted background.

A few things are worth noting across these and related commentaries about voting. First, these young voters clearly bring a strong sense of responsibility to voting. They refuse to approach it haphazardly—so much so, in fact, that they would rather not vote than vote without “knowing what they’re getting themselves into.” This relates to a second point, which is that these comments take voting and its outcomes to be highly consequential. If it is risky to “just put random things down,” it is because elections matter. This affirmation is implicit in all of the discussions of voting highlighted above. It is noteworthy because it contradicts what many assume about voters who do not participate consistently—that they do not grasp or believe that elections are important.109

Next, it stands out to us that the feelings of confusion and “not knowing enough” expressed in these passages are highly relatable. If you have lived through a few election cycles in California and never felt them, you haven’t read enough ballots.110 The difference is that, for these young people, these feelings lead them to self-disqualification. This may in part be a genuine issue of lack of information; but it is surely also an issue of confidence. Civic engagement strategies must approach it as such, including by demystifying not only what is on the ballot, but also over-estimations of the level of knowledge of “the average voter.” Here again, the evidence hints that internalized othering is at work, with young people presumably comparing themselves unfavorably against an ideal that does not match reality.

Finally, Black and Latinx interviewees who said that they usually vote also foregrounded the idea of being informed. The context of their comments adds another dimension to how this is important for encouraging civic participation. In their case, more consistent voters stressed that they cast ballots only having “done their research,” and not based on political party or bandwagon. These discussions came across as both a defense of their choice to vote and an assertion of their critical thinking and political agency. In contrast to other voters, they said, they do not take things at face value, or would not allow themselves to be taken advantage of or taken for granted. That these are the associations at front of mind when approaching the exercise of voting is telling. It points to a general mistrust and sensitivity to being tricked or fooled as central factors in political participation. These sit alongside the issue of self-confidence in determining whether inland Latinx and Black voters, especially the young, feel prepared to cast ballots.

“So I tend to take a step back if I’m not, if I myself haven’t done the research… It definitely comes down to that. Doing my due diligence.”
— Indigenous/Latina woman, 33, Fontana

For civic engagement programs, addressing the issue of unequal participation in elections will therefore mean overcoming multiple obstacles. Thankfully, our research in the Inland Empire also identifies an anchorage for ambivalent voters, and a context for narratives emphasizing their agency: community. The idea that voting was a way of showing up for one’s community was one that resonated widely in the Inland Empire, and this is a consistent and robust finding across a number of our team’s research partnerships to listen to underrepresented voter groups.111 Latinx and Black voters especially identify with the idea of voting on behalf of community when this implies voting for those who cannot—i.e. people who are disenfranchised due to past convictions or by citizen voting requirements. Notable to the above discussion, this idea of voting for others is also one that can push people who are on the fence about whether or not they are adequately prepared or informed toward exercising their voting rights. The following quote from a 54-year-old Latina woman in Moreno Valley on how she became inspired to participate in elections is illustrative:

I don’t want to go and vote for something that I don’t understand… My siblings, they were telling me to vote… ‘You, that are part of here [i.e. a citizen], in order to help, go and vote’… I used to tell them like this: ‘I don’t understand everything that is being discussed here.’ I read, but because I wasn’t involved, I didn’t understand. They say, ‘Well, you go and vote. And you read a little and study…and vote.’ It was only because of that that I started to vote. But I hadn’t… I had never registered [previously]. I was never interested, nothing. [But] Then my husband says to me, ‘You know what? You should help out by voting – you, you who is a citizen, you should help by voting since you’re a citizen here. You should help by voting.’112

Power in a System Built for ‘Them’

Though the previous section showed that cynicism is not the main driver of abstention from voting, Black and Latinx study participants in the Inland Empire were pessimistic about engaging or influencing power at the highest levels. This is not to say that they feel powerless, which is the point of this final section. But they commonly expressed a view of living in a system in which ultimate control is at the top, with those holding the greatest wealth and highest public offices intertwined, out of reach, and making decisions out of view and above the law.113

Where study participants experienced their power was at a different level and scale. Feelings of empowerment centered on matters closer to everyday life, at the level of interpersonal interactions, neighborhoods, faith communities, or occasionally children’s schools. Notwithstanding adverse experiences, participants valorized seizing upon opportunities in these contexts to make small positive changes where one can. Their hopefulness came from a focus on building community locally so that people can work together face to face to solve problems and take care of one another.

In aspiring to exercise power over their life conditions through community with others, inland residents eschew the individualism that often grows from the wound of having been excluded from access to “the system” itself. Nonetheless, talk of empowerment at this local level tended to be accompanied by resignation or acceptance that change will not—cannot—be made “higher up.” In fact, in two of our five focus groups, there were participants who advocated for community members to shift energy to mutual aid and community building in place of engagement with government. Surely these conversations are taking place in communities themselves. 

Thus, to interpret distrust and withdrawal from government as necessarily expressions of individualism—and a rejection of ideas of the public or collective good—is a misdiagnosis. Organizations committed to expanding civic participation and advocacy vis-à-vis government should also be conscious of how some versions of collectivism reinforce the message that underrepresented communities are better off retreating from these points of engagement. Especially following many positive developments with mutual aid projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and practitioners will do well to keep track of how narratives favoring change that is autonomous from—and may thereby cede the vehicle of—government are taking hold among those still left outside of full civic belonging.

Conclusions and Implications

Most of the pressing problems we face as a society must be addressed at a scale that can be reached only through government. And if the solutions designed are to be shaped by principles of equity and inclusion, it will only be thanks to broad-based civic participation and action. There are a number of barriers to realizing such participation, especially for communities that are most impacted by problems ranging from extreme economic inequality to climate change to mass incarceration. 

As a study of opinion, narratives, and worldview, this report has focused on barriers to participation that are often overlooked in more policy-centered analyses. It shows that in some of those communities that stand to benefit from policies advancing equity and expanding belonging, there are many who are disillusioned with government to the point of having no expectation that it can improve their lives. As such, many withdraw from engagement with government, and some advocate to others that they do the same. The underlying sources of disillusionment and mistrust have roots that go beyond any particular politician or administration, and we therefore should not expect them to shift with changes in who holds elected office alone. Community and civic actors will need to incorporate a number of lessons into their outreach strategies, and sustain them across campaigns to durably build civic identity, agency, and power.

  • The idea of “government” clearly continues to have a bad name, including in low- and middle-income communities of color. It is largely regarded as something to be avoided as much as possible. This disposition is not reducible to individualist or “small-government” ideology. Instead, in this context, skepticism and antipathy toward government are often rooted in experiences that show “it” to be a top-down authority that fails to provide service, care, or attention to “people like me.” Such criticisms affirm that government should function in the interest of the public good—enabling and facilitating the wellbeing and advancement of people and communities. In doing so, they are far from individualist. Civic organizations will need to recognize this in order to engage seriously with the cynicism found in communities of color on its own terms.
  • The perception that government is deeply entangled with economic elites and corporations is a major driver of cynicism about prospects for effecting change through it. This perception is not wrong; but prevailing narratives may oversimplify the relationship between political power and money in defeatist ways. We find that many focus on a direct relationship between holding public office and enrichment or wealth—either that politicians become rich through public office, or that those who reach elected office are the wealthiest themselves. From there, it is easy to conclude that government will always serve the rich, based on personal economic self-interests. But this partial story fails to address arenas where change might be made, such as policies that enable big money to distort political incentives and representation. Reform proposals to curb the role of money in politics exist, and polling suggests that they would find a receptive audience if debated publically.114 By focusing here, we might provide constituents with a viable route toward change in which to commit energy and action.
  • Notwithstanding reasons for skepticism, voters from underrepresented communities widely regard election outcomes as consequential—including young people who rarely vote. For these voters, it is not that they see elections as unimportant; to the contrary, many take voting so seriously that they disqualify themselves from meeting the criteria for participation. In this sense, outreach that stresses the importance of elections is probably solving for the wrong problem. It may also be counterproductive in that constant reminders that “voting is important” can come across as condescending, out of touch, or preachy—contributing to alienation rather than engagement.
  • Considerable evidence suggests that decisions about whether to vote—especially among young people, women, and Spanish-dominant Latinxs—often hinge on voters’ perceptions of whether they are adequately prepared, especially whether they “know enough.” If many voters are thereby disqualifying themselves, it is likely that they are overestimating the level of knowledge needed to participate, underestimating their own preparedness, or both. Civic engagement groups should aim to demystify the ballot itself, as well as the extent to which advanced knowledge is the principal criterion for voting. That is, there is a need to help voters become better informed; but outreach should also help them to anchor their political agency elsewhere—e.g. in their values, their knowledge of local needs, and their relations and responsibilities to community—than in “political knowledge” in its narrowest sense.
  • A related need is for civic engagement organizations to develop strategies that enable underrepresented constituencies to adopt a “voter” identity. Beyond the myriad ways in which racism, sexism, ageism, and other social conventions degrade certain groups’ knowledge, political campaigns specifically tend to prioritize outreach in ways that tell these same groups that they are marginal to civic life and decision making. While some voters who are relentlessly courted by political campaigns, others are never called upon to see themselves as voters. The result is a gap in voter identity that must be overcome.
  • Voting as a way to make one’s community visible and to be a voice for one’s community are highly motivating ideas, and ones that can overcome misgivings about whether to participate civically. Members of communities that have been ignored, marginalized, and abandoned by successive elected leaders or administrations will, understandably, have trouble marshalling enthusiasm to support the latest candidate, or a partisan “team.” But while “politics” is perceived as small, the idea of “community” is vast. To vote is much more appealing when it is clear that it means supporting, showing up for, representing, or choosing one’s community.
  • Finally, civic and movement leaders committed to making policy and systems change must articulate and disseminate a vision of communal or collective agency vis-à-vis government to their constituency base. They must make the case, and tell the story, of a relationship between people and government that affirms local experiences and identities, while expanding ideas of what is possible. This is no easy trick, of course, and telling a plausible story may rely on first getting tangible “wins.” But the point is that, without such a narrative account of “we” engage government to make the future we want, the risk of withdrawal or retreat from government is high—even among constituencies that are aligned on social-justice values and commitment to the collective good. 

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  • 97  This view was connected to the common perception raised by numerous Black and Latinx residents that Trump had emboldened racism and racists that had previously been “hidden.”
  • 98  It is ironic that Trump was so often used as an example in general statements about government and politicians, given that he was a figure from outside of party politics, with no prior history of public office or service, and who campaigned on these very qualities.
  • 99  This was far below the shares that said they felt “more grateful” to doctors, nurses, and hospital staff (73 percent) or warehouse, transport, and delivery workers (71 percent).
  • 100  Berkeley IGS Poll, “Tabulations from a Late-January 2021 Survey of California Registered Voters about the Coronavirus Pandemic,” p. 63.
  • 101  We were surprised that police rarely came up in participants’ talk of government, given that officers are often a tangible representative of government in people’s everyday experiences, and especially in the context of surging police budgets like those seen across the Inland Empire. Ángel Mendiola Ross, “Governing Inequities through Police in the Inland Empire,” Othering & Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley, December 2019, https://belonging.berkeley.edu/governing-inequities-through-police-inland-empire. The one notable exception was a discussion of experiences of harassment by police in our focus group with young women of color.
  • 102  There were individuals who identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming among the survey respondents, but not enough to report statistically reliable disaggregated results for them.
  • 103  We characterize as “Spanish-dominant” those respondents who opted to answer the survey questions in Spanish when given the choice between Spanish and English.
  • 104  Mary A. Lundeberg, Paul W. Fox, and Judith Punćcohaŕ, “Highly Confident but Wrong: Gender Differences and Similarities in Confidence Judgments,” Journal of Educational Psychology 86, no. 1 (1994): 114–121.
  • 105  Matthew S. McGlone, Joshua Aronson, and Diane Kobrynowicz, “Stereotype Threat and the Gender Gap in Political Knowledge,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 30: 392-398 (2006). See further the work of Kathleen Dolan challenging how “knowledge” is defined and measured in political science research, and which also reminds us of the continued gendered character of what is constructed as “political.” Kathleen Dolan, “Do Women and Men Know Different Things? Measuring Gender Differences in Political Knowledge,” The Journal of Politics 73, no. 1 (2011): 97-107.
  • 106  Overall, only 14 percent of our Inland Empire survey respondents expressed uncertainty about whether they would vote, with the other 86 percent saying that they would “definitely vote” in the November 2020 election. That said, it is well known that respondents overestimate their likelihood to vote in pre-election surveys.
  • 107  Araiza, Clark, and Lenoir, “From Estrangement to Engagement,” pp. 2-3. It is worth noting that our qualitative research was carried out in 2019, before the concerted attack on mail voting launched by Donald Trump and his reelection campaign in 2020. Still, available evidence suggests that voters’ confidence in mail ballots was resilient to these attacks in places like California in which this form of voting has been common for some years.
  • 108  This is broadly consistent with Lisa García Bedolla and Melissa Michelson’s emphasis on individual civic identity as the central driver of participation, and appropriate target of voter activation programs. Lisa García Bedolla and Melissa R. Michelson, Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns, Yale University Press, 2012.
  • 109  A point about methods is worth making here. If each of these interviewees was presented with the statement, “Most elections don’t really matter that much; things stay the same for people like me no matter who is voted into office,” would they not have responded “agree”? They very well might have. And yet, when asked more open-endedly about how they make decisions about whether to vote, this viewpoint is nowhere to be found in their responses. This is a reminder of the importance of hearing people’s own words, and also the need to check against surveys’ capacity to induce and accentuate opinions—not merely to register them. The choice to include a question on our 2020 survey about whether respondents believed others were better informed than themselves in fact came out of our prior qualitative research, and our having heard so many statements of residents’ insecurity about their preparedness to participate civically.
  • 110  We should note that although some of the interviewees focused specifically on complicated language in ballot initiatives, most were speaking more generally when evaluating themselves as politically uninformed.
  • 111  Araiza, Clark, and Lenoir, “From Estrangement to Engagement,” p. 4.
  • 112  Translated by Clark. The quote in the original Spanish reads: “Yo no quiero ir a votar por algo que no entiendo… Mis hermanos me estaban diciendo que votara… ‘Tú que eres parte de aquí, para que ayudes, ve y vota’… Yo así les decía: ‘yo no entiendo de todo lo que están hablando aquí.’ Yo leo, pero como no estaba metida, no entiendo. Dicen, ‘Pues, tú ve y vota. Y tú lee poquito y estudias... y votas.’ Solo fue con eso que empecé a votar. Pero yo no, nunca me había registrado. Nunca estaba interesada, nada. Entonces, me dice mi marido, ‘¿Sabes qué? Debes de ayudar, a votar. Tú, que eres ciudadana, debes de ayudar ya que eres ciudadana de aquí. Debes de ayudar, a votar.’”
  • 113  Again, the figure of Donald Trump came up frequently as a case in point, despite that the actions used as examples (e.g. refusing to disclose tax records) were exceptions to longstanding norms and practices. Still, Trump’s activities accentuated these residents’ sense of vulnerability in the belief that “anything can happen.”
  • 114  Bradley Jones, “Most Americans want to limit campaign spending, say big donors have greater political influence,” Pew Research Center, May 8, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/08/most-americans-want-to-limit-campaign-spending-say-big-donors-have-greater-political-influence.