At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a record 32 million Latinos living in the United States will be eligible to vote next Tuesday. That’s about half the Hispanic population in the country. However, when it comes to the Latino vote, nothing is set in stone.
The inclinations and interests of Hispanics in the U.S. are as heterogeneous as the community itself, something the political parties don’t seem to have understood.
As explained by The Atlantic, polls over the past seven months have shown that Latino support in elections is directly related to the pandemic. While most say they are convinced to vote, the historical trend among Latinos is abstention.
“Nothing has exposed our disparities and income inequality as much as COVID has, because the people who could shelter in place had a choice,” says Maria Teresa Kumar, the president of the political organization Voto Latino, which recently threw its support behind Joe Biden in its first-ever presidential endorsement. “I bet you that those mothers [going out to work] if they had a choice, they too would stay home to take care of their children and not get sick and not expose themselves and their families.”
The risk of this apathy or lack of participation has both Democrats and Republicans in a dizzying race to convince Hispanics to support their candidate.
In early September, Trump was two points ahead of his record with Latinos in 2016, and polls showed how he and Biden were neck and neck among Latino voters in Florida, according to Vox.
Trump had made Cubans and Venezuelan-Americans the focus of his interest, primarily because of their conservative leanings in the polls. Similarly, it seemed that a “subset of Latino men” gravitated toward Trump in Arizona.
It was clear that the Biden campaign had “work to do” with Latinos, senior adviser Symone Sanders said on September 13.
Now, just days before Election Day, it seems that efforts to get Latinos to participate have fallen short.
As Sam Sanders said in his NPR podcast, “It’s Been A Minute,” when it comes to Latinos, “no one gets it right.”
In his conversation with Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a scholar of Latino politics, Sanders dismantles the “One Latino Vote” paradigm and explains how diversity within the community makes it impossible for campaigns to target us as a whole.
Garcia Bedolla explains the reductionism of thinking that Latinos vote as a race and not as individuals with diverse concerns.
“That presumes a level of flatness and sort of non-content for Latino political attitudes that is reductive in ways that, I think, are really problematic; that essentially, it’s just about your race and you’re not gonna think about anything else beyond that,” she argues.
“Democrats and Republicans have done this for decades,” she says about the parties’ common strategy to have rallies with Mariachi bands presuming the Latino voters are going to believe in their proposals just because. “It’s this idea that this somehow symbolic outreach is all we want.”
García Bedolla highlights how political ads in Spanish tend to have less policy content about the candidates than English ads.
“It’s insulting,” she says, “it’s again reducing us again to tacos and Mariachi bands and not real policy.”
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Chuck Rocha, political consultant and former senior advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, explained precisely how campaign content is key to the Latino vote.
“It’s not some silver-bullet policy position that gets Latinos to vote for you. It’s the very elementary act of just going and asking for that vote. Meeting them where they’re at, and then having a conversation about what’s going on in their lives and how you can make their lives better,” Rocha said.
Regarding the Democrat’s Latino voter outreach, he insisted, “they need to be asking those Latinos in Wisconsin, in Michigan, and telling them what Joe Biden is going to be doing for them to make their lives better in the age of corona.”
“Our community is not getting the information they need … I’m afraid they may stay at home. Because if we don’t get the money to go and talk to them like I did in Bernie Sanders’ primary race, it’s a proven fact that Latinos underperform,” he concluded.