The Latinx community is not a monolith, encompassing a plurality of cultures and experiences. But despite this reality, as a voting bloc, the numbers show that broad trends and commonalities exist. As a nation, we’ll better understand how these commonalities shape the “Latino vote” as the community becomes more engaged in inclusive civic discourse and ups its historically low voter turnout.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, Latinos are on track to becoming the largest nonwhite voting group by the 2020 election, 32 million strong; the major caveat is that in every presidential election since 1996, non voting eligible Latinos outnumbered those who cast votes. For years, politicians have been hoping to awaken this sleeping giant to help swing elections their way, aware that there’s transformative power in these numbers… only to disappear at the end of the campaign trail. With an ever-growing Latino population, today’s candidates running for office are keenly aware that they can’t afford to overlook the Latinx community any longer. 2020’s Democratic presidential hopefuls have made themselves more visible to potential Latinx voters in ways that previous candidates have not: Julián Castro’s first campaign stop was Puerto Rico, Cory Booker delivered a Spanish-language announcement of his presidential run early on, and we’ve seen several candidates connecting to their audience through bilingual appeals (whether awkward or not).
We can look to the 2018 midterm elections for a glimpse at how powerful a fully-realized Latinx vote can be. At the national level, Latinx voter turnout was up to 40 percent of the total eligible population; in contrast, only about a quarter of the population had exercised their right to vote during the 2014 midterms. Per an analysis cited by NBC News, this increase in Latinx turnout and wider margins for Democratic candidates were the driving force behind flipping Senatorial seats in places like Nevada and Arizona.
It’s worth noting that boosting voter turnout will likely buoy Democratic candidates into office. A large survey of battleground states — including states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia — found that most registered Latino voters expect to vote for a Democratic candidate in the next election. The survey was conducted in July, prior to the meatpacking raids in Mississippi and the El Paso shooting, events which are expected to affect how motivated the Latinx community is to vote.
Engaging the Latinx Vote
Replicating 2018’s Democratic midterm wins in the 2020 election is not going to be easy, but the strategy is straightforward: Engage with the Latinx community now, not just in anticipation of election cycles. This is an approach that organizers like Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez have taken in expanding voter rolls. Tzintzún Ramirez founded the non-partisan organization Jolt Texas, which has been actively engaging with young Latinx voters and voters-to-be since shortly after Trump was inaugurated into office. She has since pivoted in her work and is currently running for a Senate seat in Texas.
Despite these notable shifts in voter turnout, a UnidosUS survey of eligible Latino voters living in states along the US-Mexico border found that neither the Democrats or Republicans have the 2020 election on lock down. Over half of survey respondents admitted that they were not completely sold on either party’s messaging and could be swayed by Latino-specific engagement during the campaign season. For example, if GOP candidates and organizations put their back into reaching Latinx voters on the issues important to them — basic quality of life issues like job security, affordable health care, and improving public education — then a whopping 75 percent of survey respondents would consider voting for a Republican in the next election. On the flip side, 84 percent would vote for a Democratic candidate who engaged with their Latinx constituents.
But these decisive swings are not possible if people don’t vote. As of June, less than two-thirds of survey respondents said that they were committed to voting in the primaries, while about a third were merely considering it.
Stephanie Valencia, the co-founder of Equis Labs, recently told NBC’s Know Your Value that she believes that Latinas, specifically, are the key to 2020 election. According to the EquisLabs poll, Latinas tend to be more progressive than Latinos. “I think it’s because women are the heads of their households, they’re the ones paying the bills, they’re feeding their families, they’re trying to ensure their families have affordable healthcare, and so they’re looking at the issues around the upcoming election and previous elections with that mindset.” If Valencia’s assessment is accurate, the platform of progressive Democrats obviously has particular resonance with Latinas.
But that doesn’t mean Latinas are the only ones who need to engage with the next election—they simply need to step into leadership roles. She offered encouragement for any member of the Latinx community looking forward to the next election, whether with hope or anxiety. “Find a candidate you believe in where your issues align,” she said. “People need volunteers. If you feel so motivated to participate, make sure that you’re taking your friends and family to vote as well.” She emphasized that there are no excuses, that we cannot afford to be apathetic or ignorant about what is at stake. Nor can Latinx voters afford to be intimidated by the hateful rhetoric and literal attacks on the community; allies will need to pull their weight in helping to create safe spaces for Latinxs in the electoral process.
What Do Latinx Voters Want?
Despite the range of interests and concerns that each individual Latinx voter has, nearly all of the respondents in the UnidosUS survey reported feeling that racism is an issue, and the vast majority were unhappy with the way that the current administration and its supporters have been treating immigrants — even those who had voted for Trump. In that context, it makes sense that the number one quality that respondents prize in a candidate is one of leadership — specifically, the quality of a leader who demonstrably values diversity and brings people together, something that perhaps transcends partisan politics. Additionally, more Latinx voters were interested in having a leader who was willing to compromise and pursue achievable goals than voters who want their leader to not back down on issues important to them.
Overall, the sense is that we are hoping for a candidate to pull us through divisive times by championing open dialogue and unity, a leader who reflects the power of the people; the “Latino vote” can get America there, if candidates and their communities truly reckon with its power.