It’s a frequent refrain, generally only coming every four years (but with a whisper or two at the midterms): how will Latinos vote this year?
Unsurprisingly, the question of how the Latino community will vote has graced many headlines over the last few months, and the conversation continues to ramp up as the election nears. It’s a frequent refrain, generally only coming every four years (but with a whisper or two at the midterms): how will Latinos vote this year?
But those of us in the community, and especially those involved in political organizing, know that this question is much more complicated than the headlines make it seem.
What is true behind this question is that yes, the Latino community is an increasingly important group in the United States, simply because of the growing percentage of the population we represent. Jorge Ramos wrote in an early September op-ed for the New York Times, “This year, a projected 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, making them the largest racial or ethnic minority ever to participate in a presidential election. And for the first time, Latinos will outnumber Black voters, according to the Pew Research Center.”
Latinos also make up large and/or meaningful parts of the electorate in states that really matter in the election.”The power of Latino voters is evident in states such as Florida and Arizona,” continues Ramos. “Had the Latino turnout been higher in those states in 2016, Mr. Trump might not be president. But over half of all Latinos eligible to vote didn’t do so, and consequently history was written in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”
But simply looking at Latinos as a monolithic voting bloc, however influential, masks what many of us know well--the Latino community is incredibly diverse, and by no means votes as a bloc. Latinos are a loosely defined group, within which you have people whose origins trace back to 20+ countries, speak a variety of languages and identify with a number of races, ethnicities, religions and class backgrounds. The nuances within the Latino community when it comes to political affiliation was analyzed in FiveThirtyEight’s recent article, “There is No Such Thing as the Latino Vote.”
In reality, the article explains, how someone in the Latino community votes is shaped by a number of factors, including how long they have been in the U.S. “The longer a Hispanic family has lived in the U.S., the likelier they are to have assimilated — and vote more like white Americans, who lean toward the Republican Party.” There is a lot of attention in this conversation on the voting habits of more Republican-leaning groups, like Cuban Americans, who despite being a very small sector of the Latino population, have an outsized influence because of their dominance in South Florida, a crucial swing state. Cuban Americans have been increasingly leaning more Democratic, but polls still show Trump ahead by a double digit margin. Much of this is generational. “Voters who personally fled Cuba are still strongly Republican, while the growing share of Cuban Americans born in the U.S. actually lean Democratic.”
But other Latino groups that don’t get as much attention also have their own distinct voting trends. Central Americans “Have really been damaged by the president’s immigration policy,” said political scientist Dario Moreno in FiveThirtyEight. “This is where Democrats will have some opportunities.”
Understanding the political leanings of the Latino community is only one piece of the question of impact on the election. The other, potentially more important question, is will folks actually turn out to vote? This year the conditions are even more challenging. In the recent Atlantic article, “The Neglect of Latino Voters,” Mijente political director Tania Unzueta explains, “You’re asking people to vote in the middle of a crisis, when they don’t have a job, when they’re getting kicked out of their home, when their family members are getting deported.” The challenge [for Democrats] is to make people see the connection between that and President Trump and his agenda, and understanding that [voting] is part of how we change those material conditions.”
COVID-19 has impacted the Latino community on a disproportionate scale, as have the economic challenges this crisis has brought on. This adds additional barriers to the existing ones that stand in the way of voting--including apathy, voter registration hoops and voter suppression attempts.
But on top of all of that is the question of whether the candidates are even reaching out to Latino voters. “Latinos are “literally under attack,” Chuck Rocha the founder of the progressive Nuestro PAC, told The Atlantic. “And instead of hearing a motivating message to encourage them to vote, many Latinos aren’t hearing anything at all.”
Groups like Mijente, and many others, are working to make sure Latinos get the information and encouragement they need to turn out. But those approaches are shaped by the reality that that work means reaching folks across many many divides--political, racial, class and otherwise. But as Jorge Ramos argued: “The reality in United States politics today is that we have the power to open or close the doors to the White House.”