Experts say Democrats will need to think about the Latino community more critically ahead of the 2020 election.
One place to start is doing away with a one-size-fits-all mindset, said longtime Democratic political consultant James Aldrete.
Aldrete likened this wrongheaded mindset to the phrase “sleeping giant,” an expression often used to describe Hispanics as a voting bloc that will one day “wake up” and go to the polls.
“When people use the term sleeping giant, it’s as if culture is the cause for lower voter participation– that’s bullshit,” Aldrete said. “It ignores basic political science research that it’s age, education and income level.”
Aldrete said differences within the Latino community are more complex than most campaigns care to understand. He said one major reason Latinos vote less than other racial groups is that they’re younger overall– a major indicator when predicting whether someone will vote or not.
For some perspective, among the nation’s 56.5 million Hispanics the median age was only 28 in 2015, according to the most recent Pew Research Center data. Per the same data, Hispanic millennials accounted for almost half of the demographic’s eligible voters. When compared to white, Black and Asian electorates, Hispanics were the only group whose eligible voters were growing younger.
“It kind of used to be that the elders were the influencers within the Hispanic community, now it’s the younger generation,” Aldrete said. “They’ve lived in both worlds; many of them serve as translators for their families, many are the first to go to college, and they continue to be guides for their families.”
Republicans get sizeable Hispanic vote
In 2018, Democrats unsuccessfully ran former Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez for governor. A little more than half (53 percent) of Hispanics supported her bid on election day while 42 percent backed Gov. Greg Abbott, according to Edison Research exit polling.
Despite running a Latino candidate, those number barely improved since the 2014 governor’s race when Wendy Davis won the Latino vote 55 percent to Abbot’s 44 percent.
Aldrete said that’s because Democrats ran a Hispanic candidate but they weren’t able effectively promote her.
“The idea that having a Hispanic on the ballot means Hispanics will go vote misses the point,” Aldrete said.
He said that in many cases, Valdez did poorly with Hispanics because she wasn’t well known by the community.
Part of that was because of Valdez’ limited campaign funds, Aldrete said. While Abbott kicked off his campaign with more than $40 million in his war chest, Valdez managed to raise only $1.4 million by October 2018, according to the Dallas Morning News.
That lack of funding severely crippled Valdez’ ability to become a household name for Hispanics.
“There wasn’t a presented argument for Lupe, but there was for Beto,” Aldrete said. “Hispanics knew more about Beto than they did about Lupe.”
Exit polls showed Beto O’Rourke received 64 percent of the Hispanic vote to Ted Cruz’s 35 percent in 2018.
Aldrete said one reason why Republicans appear to maintain such a significant portion of the Latino vote despite anti-immigrant rhetoric is because exit polls don’t tell the full story.
“No one is doing exit polling in Hispanic-dominant communities,” Aldrete said pointing to areas like Hidalgo or El Paso where Valdez won with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Aldrete also pointed to other regular factors, like age and income, as to how and why Republicans are able to garner steady Hispanic votes.
Increased outreach effort
Besides coming to the Latino community with a sharper eye, outreach efforts could also be improved by making Hispanics part of the political process, said Antonio Arellano, communications director for Jolt Action, a Texas-based nonprofit that mobilizes Latino voters.
“That means providing candidates that look like them, reflect their core values, and speak to their specific issues,” Arellano said.
He said dialogue with Hispanic voters should be consistent and culture-specific, not a single radio ad months away from the general election or a simple bumper sticker.
“What we have seen in the past is a last-ditch effort by campaigns to reach out to our Latino constituency as they leap towards the finish line,” Arellano said. “They think they have done enough. And they are surprised with the end results when they don’t win the Latino base.
As a positive example, Arellano pointed to innovative strategies like Poder Quince, a Jolt program that uses Quinceañera celebrations as a place to register young voters.
“You need to start talking to us from the very beginning,” Arellano said. “If you want to win the Latino vote you must prioritize Latinos.”
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org