If the results of the Iowa caucuses are any indication, candidates may want to start changing their tunes a little and focusing more of their attention on Latinos.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of several groups nationwide trying to increase Latino voter participation, said Monday they hit their goal of getting at least 10,000 Latino Iowans to pledge to participate, reported NBC Latino.
And just as analysts and media experts use the Iowa caucuses as a guide to predict how the rest of the nation will vote, so do candidates use the caucuses to woo more voters. Candidates who have waged anti-Hispanic rhetoric or who have chosen to err on the side of caution by avoiding specific topics important to Latinos may want to reconsider their strategies. From the looks of it, Latinos will be coming out to vote, and in droves.
Ten thousand Latinos showed up to have their voices heard in Iowa, up from 1,000 in 2012. And if efforts continue, the number will be even higher on election day in November as the League of United Latin American Citizens has identified 50,000 Latino registered voters in that state. Mind you, Hispanics make up only 5.6 percent, or 174,000 individuals, of the Iowa state population. Those may seem like small numbers next to Texas, where one of every four eligible voters is Hispanic (and where the Hispanic population tops 10 million). So Iowa’s results should not go unnoticed.
How did Latinos in Iowa vote? Exit polls showed that Latinos were 4 percent — 6,840 of 171,000 — of Democratic caucus participants and 2 percent — 3,700 of 185,000 — of Republican participants. The total: 10,540.
Which Democratic or Republican candidates Latino Iowans voted for is still unclear. What is known is that the one candidate who could have connected solidly with Latinos, as my American-Statesman colleague James Barragan pointed out, is no longer in the running: Democrat Martin O’Malley.
A former governor of Maryland, O’Malley called for criminal justice reforms in areas that disproportionately affect people of color and proposed investing more in job-training programs and restoring voting rights to people with felony records who had served their penalties. And, unlike other candidates — Democrats and Republicans — O’Malley offered the most immigrant friendly agenda, including proposing expanding due process protections in the immigration system. Yet, he was able to win only 0.6 percent of the Democratic caucus.
In tight primary races and caucuses, every vote will matter. The Latino vote could make a difference. Various Hispanic voter registration and “get-out-and-vote” drives have been ongoing throughout the country, including in Texas. Those efforts should help improve the number of Latinos who make it to the polls.
To win those votes, however, candidates will have to make a more concerted effort to reach Hispanic voters.
In 2013, 25 percent of Texas Hispanic voters said they were contacted by campaigns or organizations encouraging them to vote, according to a 2014 report from the polling company Latino Decisions. The national average was 31 percent that same year.
Then there is the issue of language. Candidates who refuse to connect with voters in Spanish are making a big mistake. The Pew Research Center reported that 25 percent of Hispanics speak “only English,” and 30 percent of Latinos speak both English and Spanish, while 38 percent speak primarily in Spanish.
With plenty of time to garner Latino support, Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba, and Jeb Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico, have an edge over other candidates with their Spanish fluency. Though he is Latino, Ted Cruz — whose father also immigrated from Cuba — may have a harder time, not for his lack of Spanish fluency (he speaks none at all), but for what some consider anti-Latino policies. The opposite effect may occur if Hillary Clinton were to win the Democratic candidacy and, as rumors suggest, select Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro as her running mate. Castro does not speak Spanish but can effectively connect voters through his personal Mexican American experience.
Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half or 44 percent of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. For that set of voters, that number is greater than any other comparable group of voters of any racial or ethnic group, according to the report. Parental influence undoubtedly will play a role in how some of these young adults, many of whom come from Spanish-speaking households, will vote. After all, the majority of young Americans share their parents’ social and political ideology, or so says a Gallup study.
Make no mistake, Latinos are taking notice of who is listening to them.