Latina voters could prove pivotal in November
The 2016 presidential election has produced a number of bizarre and unthinkable moments that would seem outlandish even for House of Cards. The November election is just four months away, and its implications will be historic. The United States has never been so diverse, and one group in particular could wield an exceptional impact at the polls: Latina voters.
For Hispanic women, this year is an opportunity for real political change. Latinos have the lowest voter turnout of any racial or ethnic community. However, in the last eight presidential elections Hispanic women have voted at higher rates than Hispanic men. In 2012, 6 million Latina women cast a ballot, compared to just 5.2 million Latino men.
In the 2012 presidential election, Latinos heavily favored the re-election of President Obama with 71 percent of the vote. A number of media outlets seemed to notice for the first time the power of the Hispanic population. On cable news, pundits seemed to be in awe that the Hispanic vote had such an effect. The Republican National Committee issued what came to be known as an “autopsy” about the party’s dismal performance, and it concluded that Hispanic outreach would be necessary in 2016: “If Hispanics think we don’t want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”
A poll commissioned by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials illustrated how the Latino vote should have been even larger in 2012. Only 31 percent of Latino voters were “contacted by a campaign, political party, or community organization to either register to vote or cast a ballot.”
The Hispanic population, overall, has skyrocketed. Voto Latino, an organization that works to increase civic engagement in the Hispanic community, estimates that 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2016. The Latino population in this country is growing, and it is young. According to Pew Hispanic, Hispanic millennials will make up 44 percent of that 27.3 million. With the stakes extremely high this presidential election, it’s imperative that any candidate who wants to win works hard to fight for Latina voters.
While immigration is certainly a topic that motivates Latinas, many political pundits erroneously believe that’s the single issue for all Hispanic voters. A number of current polls show that Latino voters care about education, the economy, and health care. According to Christina Bejarano, an associate professor political science at the University of Kansas and the author of The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics, issues that effect families and communities motivate Latinas.
“[Latinas] are especially concerned about issues related to education and health care, which can be two areas where they display a gender gap in policy attitudes compared to Latino males,” said Bejarano. In states such as Florida and Colorado, Latina outreach for environmental ballot initiatives has been pivotal. Organizations like Voces Verdes have been key advocates for carbon efficiency and solar energy.
Currently, a number of progressive organizations are focusing their efforts on registering new voters, and Latinas are a major part of the coalition for these initiatives. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), based in San Antonio, is at the forefront of this effort. Vice President Lydia Camarillo plays a key role in strategizing for these nonpartisan mobilization efforts. “There will be more Latino voters registered to vote, and more Latinos casting their vote,” she notes.
Recently, SVREP joined three other organizations—the Earth Day Network, the NAACP Voter Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters—pledging to register one million climate voters for November’s election.
Another organization that is focusing its efforts on voter registration is the League of United Latin American Citizens. Before the Iowa caucus, the civil rights organization dedicated resources to bring in more than 25,000 Latino voters to the state’s two caucuses.
Throughout the primaries, the Democratic presidential candidates made reaching out to the Latina electorate a high priority. Hillary Clinton’s team launched an initiative called Mujeres in Politics to encourage young Latinas to register to vote. The program was very successful in Nevada and is poised to play a large role as November looms.
Senator Bernie Sanders also worked to reach out to Latino voters. Erika Andiola, a well-known immigration activist, oversaw the candidate’s outreach with the Hispanic community. On social media, the group Unidos Con Bernie ushered in conversations among potential voters in states like Colorado and Nevada. In Florida, the Sanders campaign premiered a five-minute video advertisement in Spanish on Univision featuring a female farm worker.
For Latinas who are interested in politics, 2016 could be watershed moment because for the first time in history, a Hispanic woman could be elected to the US Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general, is fighting to succeed the vacating seat of Harry Reid. Latinas are woefully underrepresented in politics; in 2014, only 1 percent of elected officials were Latinas.
In Arizona, where the Latino electorate could potentially reach over 20 percent of eligible voters, a Senate contest between John McCain and Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick will reveal just how powerful this electorate could be. McCain drew the ire of many Latinos in his state when he endorsed the state’s controversial immigration law SB 1070. Kirkpatrick has visited with Spanish-language media. She also introduced legislation in the House that would allow DREAMers, undocumented students who are exempt from deportation, to earn employment in congressional offices.
The United States is only growing more diverse. In a few years Florida and Texas will follow California as states where the Hispanic population outnumbers the white population. The political establishment cannot afford to look at Latinas as a small, unremarkable segment of the population. At the ballot box in November, Hispanic women are bound to make a huge difference.