Reality Check: Latino Voters are Just Not That Into You

By  Gabriela Lemus, NewsTaco

With the mid-term elections looming so closely, much ado is being made about Hispanic voters staying home.  Latino voters – who primarily vote during presidential elections anyway – are just not that enthused.

What’s the problem?  Why don’t Latinos vote during mid-terms, especially these mid-terms? And, why are Latinos registering as independents in growing numbers?

It appears that Latinos are asking themselves the same question others in the country are asking, “What’s in it for me?” But, that only explains part of the story.

For those of us who have historically worked in the Latino community, voter turnout has been an ongoing challenge in large part because the demographic bar changes significantly each decade. Expectations increase with each new Latino eligible voter added to the roster.

We have learned a lot about why Latinos turn out or don’t.

We know that the Latino voter turnout is very dependent on outreach. Unfortunately, in the 2014 election cycle, neither party has placed a lot of emphasis on getting out the Latino vote.

Folks who care about electoral turnouts during mid-terms need to start understanding that Latinos are looking at what policies are coming out of congress and who is doing what.  You need to speak to Latinos if you want them to turn out and vote for you.

We also know that the Latino community is done with tired promises.  If immigration reform has been the community’s overarching policy goal, then Latinos have kept their part. In every electoral cycle they turn out in larger numbers. Yet, instead of a reward, they are asked to jump through the next hoop.  They’re not buying it.

We all know that the Latino community is incredibly frustrated with the Republican leadership in the House, but also with the President.  Neither has come to the table in such a way that satisfies the community’s demands for comprehensive immigration reform.  The community is not laughing.

They’re angry and they’re not sure what their best strategic response should be.  Some leaders have argued to penalize the Democrats and vote Republican, a highly unlikely choice in many races given who the candidate choices are.  Many leaders have argued to plug your nose and vote for someone who doesn’t care about the issues you care about because you represent less than 3% of the vote in their district – a  valid argument but not very inspiring. There are some local leaders who have said – then don’t vote. This last option is the worst one of all, but the one many voters are likely to follow.

The 2015 political numbers indicate that part of the levels of enthusiasm discussion is also regional.  The reality is that in 2014 there are very few House elections in play where Latinos feel a large stake in the game.  Though nationally, Latinos represent 10.7% of eligible voters, the numbers become less relevant state by state with the exception perhaps of areas in Florida, California – and Illinois.

In terms of state-wide Senate races in play, Colorado has a significant eligible Latino voting population at 14.2% – followed by Kansas where Latino eligible voters are 6% of overall voters.

So, bottom line, if the races are just not that interesting because there are no significant driving policy outcomes visibly in play; because either the Latino community doesn’t gain any real power locally or they don’t see their reflection in the candidate, and the respective political parties don’t appear to care, of course the likelihood is a low Latino voter turnout.

But Latinos shouldn’t accept this tacitly.  It matters that we turn out.  There are political and corporate interests controlling the levers of power that are sufficiently concerned about shifting demographic trends that they are spending millions of dollars to stop Latinos and other minorities from voting.

As a community, we should be getting very angry. We are already living in a world with very real structural challenges, and courts are making decisions about state voter registration laws and appropriate identification at the polls. The effort to repress the vote alone should turn us out in droves.

If ever there was an argument for Latinos to come together and stop this nonsense – this is it.  This is the world in which our democracy is played.  What’s our next move?

Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus is the Executive Director & President of Progressive Congress. She tweets @progcongress.

[Photo by apalapala/Flickr]

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