Third Way Presents Strategists’ Views on Engaging the Latino Voter

June 15, 2020 by Kate Michael
Early voting signs at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Latino voter may well determine the outcome of ballot races across the country this year, however, it’s a mistake to consider this population a single-issue constituency election strategists said at a recent virtual forum hosted by Third Way, the Washington, D.C. think tank.

All too often, national campaigns look to engage Latino voters primarily on the immigration issue, but other messages and strategies may be equally essential to capturing these voters, the forum’s participants said.

Sharing their insights were Stephanie Valencia, co-founder and president of EquisLabs, and Margie Omero, principal at GBAO. Both consultancies focus on qualitative and public opinion research to further political and campaign strategy. 

“The national media likes to package up the Latino community in a nice box,” said Valencia, but candidates would be better served to “peel back the onion” on Latinos in their specific communities. “It’s more nuanced, less binary,” said Valencia, suggesting that the media shouldn’t position Latinos solely as a mobilization audience, but look instead at persuasion strategies that get Latino voters engaged and excited about civic participation.

Valencia firmly believes that the future of the Democratic party will depend on Hispanics, and that “[Latinos] will matter in every state and on every map.” Citing the rapid growth of the U.S. born Latino population, she predicted that the Hispanic voting block “will be the new white surge voter for Democrats.”

Though Obama did not win the Latino vote in the 2008 primary, and neither did Bernie Sanders in 2016, Valencia sees that their investments in resources to communicate and reach voters at every level have paid off. “Voters are ready to respond,” she said, “but obviously the policy and vision needs to be there as well.”

Both Valencia and Omero said they believe Hispanic voters are looking to see candidates’ attention and investment made in their community, even on issues other than immigration. The economy, education, and health care have polled as important policy concerns to Latinos, and Valencia offered that there seems to be greater voter appeal when candidates use specific cultural cues, in lieu of pan-Hispanic ones, in their campaigns. Omero added that creating an authentic connection with a specific Latino audience was paramount. 

Regardless, there is a step forward from “older days when candidates just translated [their ads] into Spanish or said something specific about immigration,” said Omero. 

Another advantage for the Democratic party is that Hispanics generally dislike President Trump. Biden hasn’t consolidated the anti-Trump vote, though. “Folks are decidedly anti-Trump, but [are] still in a wait and see mode for Biden,” Valencia said. Their neutral opinion of Biden actually gives him “a huge opportunity to reintroduce himself,” according to Valencia, who suggested that he would profit from creating an affirmative vision of “who he is.” She suggested that to secure Hispanics, Biden reach out to Latino voters early and build genuine relationships with the community.

“Anti-Trump sentiment is not going to be enough,” Valencia offered, saying there needs to be an affirmative agenda for Latinos to support. According to polling research, Latinos generally have deep support for policies like Medicare for All and respond to positions that address their educational and immigration concerns. “Kids in cages and family separation are important pieces to convey to Latino voters,” Valencia said. 

Still, Omero prompted that Latinos could be open to Trump, or “Trump-curious,” and that the President could muddy the waters enough to create confusion about Joe Biden. “I think that Latino voters behave similarly to voters overall,” said Omero, warning that the nation “should not expect and hold Latinos to be monolithic on Trump … [or] be the face of consistent Trump opposition in a uniform way.” 

The most important action for Democrats may be getting Latinos to vote in the first place. If historical data and polling research are correct, “Fifty-seven percent of eligible Latino voters in battleground states will sit out the 2020 election,” said Valencia. Typically, Democrats have relied on site-based voter registration, but post-COVID-19, this will be a particular challenge. So focusing on registered non-voters is that much more critical. To explain their apathy, these voters generally cite a lack of faith in candidates or no excitement or connection to either party. 

To combat this, Omero says candidates should approach Latino voters, and in fact all voters, with open-mindedness. “All candidates should be trying to put themselves into the shoes of those [they want to represent].”

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