Latinos are projected to make up 13.3% of eligible voters in the U.S. this coming election — a 1.4% increase from 2016. Not only does 62% of this minority group identify as or lean towards the Democratic party, it’s members also form a significant portion of four states’ electorates that can often give political parties the lead necessary to win a presidential election (see Table 1).
It makes sense to assume that this is a group within the American electorate that political parties should be very interested in swaying with their campaigns. According to a graph published by the US Census Bureau, however, only 47.6% of the Hispanic population voted in the 2016 presidential election — the lowest rate among non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, and people of other races. In short, Latinos voted at a lower rate than any other minority group. With so much riding on the upcoming elections in November for both parties, it seems more important than ever to secure not just a registration, but an actual ballot from this demographic.
The Latino community’s unenthusiastic voting patterns are not news to American government. Often called a “sleeping giant”, this voting bloc has received much surface-level analysis from politicians, but very little effort to truly understand and mobilize it. What makes Latinos tick is, contrary to popular belief, not just immigration reform (though that has undoubtedly become more of a central issue since Donald Trump’s election).
In fact, Latino youths are becoming one of the largest subgroups within the community, and their motivations and concerns are increasingly more diverse than their predecessors. According to a Potochnik and Stegmaier’s study second generation immigrants were as unlikely to be politically active as first generation undocumented immigrants. Third-generation immigrants participate politically as often as third generation non-Latino Whites.
Various factors could explain why younger Latino voters are less politically active than others. A poll by UnidosUS found this subgroup prioritizes issues like healthcare and a candidate that “values diversity and brings people together” over one that speaks Spanish or has prior business or private sector experience. Thus, any party that wishes to win young Latino votes must take the time to understand the differences in their thought processes and issues they find essential. During primary election campaigning last year, Bernie Sanders enjoyed the highest level of support among young Latino voters because he understood the Latino community has its own subgroups with which to become familiar. Despite Sanders’ success, young Latino voters do not feel that the United States’ politicians take their votes seriously.
Just how passively are our current candidates handling their campaign efforts towards Latinos? Earlier this month, Latino Decisions published the results of a survey that revealed more than half of Latino adults (81% of which were registered voters) nationwide had not been contacted by either the Democratic or Republican party. As previously mentioned, the Latino population’s growth did not happen overnight. Politicians have no reason to doubt their vote’s potential impact in any major election. Reaching out to this community should be a top priority for any party wishing to secure their vote. Of course, more research is necessary to give a definitive answer to these questions. Still, there are some obvious next steps to be taken by any political candidate wishing to secure the Latino vote.
The 32 million-strong Latino vote can only be won by committing to their interests in equally significant ways. Donald Trump understands his target market within this group (a Pew Research Center Survey placed his approval ratings at 29%). On the other hand, Joe Biden’s reach within the Latino community could extend much further than his Republican adversary’s. Hispanics have been more likely to affiliate with the Democratic party for many years. Yet, despite the clear difference these voters could make to his chances of being elected, Biden’s campaign has directed limited attention to the Latino vote up until now. This is especially important given the unprecedented situation surrounding this year’s election. In light of COVID-19, vote-by-mail is expected to be a popular option. However, 40% of Latinos polled by UnidosUS said that they were not familiar with the process of requesting a mail-in ballot. Given Latino’s undeniable potential to provide candidates with the push necessary to win this year’s presidential election, the technical complications surrounding the voting process this year is worrisome.
Despite what the numbers seem to indicate, Latinos are not apathetic: they are unconvinced, though not monolithically, as the Latino community includes people from all walks of life. For many years, the United States’ political system has put Latinos into boxes with precise descriptions that have left little room for diversity. The low turnout among Latinos is not driven by a lack of interest. Instead, they have felt that past candidates have represented neither themselves nor a concern for the political issues affecting them. Every election cycle, politicians are playing with fate when they decide to treat Latinos as a monolithic group. Last month, the Biden/Harris campaign released its first bilingual ad entitled “¿Con Quién Andas?” targeting the Latino population. This is a good first step, but also one that should be second nature in 2020.
Of course, the upcoming election is an unprecedented combination of elements that make confident predictions about its results almost impossible. Whatever the polls bring this year, every Latino must be given both the equal opportunity and the information necessary to make its voice heard.
Voting procedures vary by state. If you or someone you know would like information on how to vote by mail, check your state’s official website. Howto.vote provides voting information in both English and Spanish for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Please be aware that the information provided by a third-party site like How to Vote is subject to change before the upcoming election.
Ellie is a regular contributor at The Commoner, focusing on the Latin American experience in the USA and international affairs. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and has since taught English as a foreign language both online and in Mexico. She enjoys listening to podcasts about foreign culture and annoying her fat and sassy tortoiseshell cat with lots of love and pets.