To Win 2022: Go big on reconciliation and invest in Latinx voters
Control of Congress is at stake next year, and some Democratic analysts are sounding the alarm.
We won’t sugarcoat it. As Latinx leaders in Pennsylvania and Nevada—two 2020 and 2022 battleground states—we know that this is an uphill battle for Democrats. We also know that there has been some erosion in support for Democrats in Latinx communities where our organization works.
But there is also a tremendous opportunity to right the ship. By delivering transformative policies this fall and making early investments in state-based Latinx voter engagement, Democrats and their supporters can turn the tide for 2022.
We know. Democrats face a challenging environment. As the pandemic drags on, President Biden’s poll numbers are anemic and moving in the wrong direction. Intra-party disputes between progressive and conservative Democrats—with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) the chief culprits—have stalled legislative progress on physical and human infrastructure and voting rights. And midterm elections are always difficult for first-term presidents. Moreover, while voters of color were crucial for Democrats’ win in 2020, Republicans made some inroads among Latinos without a college degree.
But, while success is never guaranteed, these problems are quite solvable.
First, the White House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Speaker Pelosi need to play hardball to stop the brinkmanship of conservative Democrats—especially Manchin and Sinema—and deliver an expansive reconciliation package that will quickly deliver concrete changes in voters’ lives. Delivering a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants, universal pre-K and child care assistance, paid family leave, an extended child tax credit, a reduction in prescription drug prices, and overdue resources for a green energy future would transform people’s day-to-day experience. These are the types of changes that voters remember on Election Day. While the Senate rules make it challenging to steamroll Manchin and Sinema, Democratic leaders must exert maximal leverage to get the deal done.
They (especially Schumer) must then quickly turn to voting rights, where all 50 Senate Democrats have supported the Freedom to Vote Act, which would provide a critical safeguard against the Republican attacks on voters’ ability to cast their ballots. Not a single Republican senator has offered support for this commonsense voting rights package. Democrats must adjust the filibuster rules to end this obstructionism and advance voting rights.
These legislative victories would certainly merit a Biden/Harris roll-out tour to tout their successes. But savvy legislating is not sufficient for strong midterm performance. Winning the midterms will require early and robust investment in deeply-rooted organizing in battleground states, especially in communities of color.
Much has been made of Donald Trump’s 2020 gains among Latinx voters. Most analysts overstate this change: Trump’s modest inroads were highly regionalized and concentrated among Latinx voters with lower education levels. Overall, a supermajority of Latinx voters still voted for Biden and Democrats down-ballot.
Nonetheless, we have seen some working-class Latinx voters (especially men) embrace Trump’s bilious propaganda. Our communities are particularly vulnerable when Democrats fail to invest early in persuading and mobilizing our neighbors and loved ones. We’re all too familiar with Democratic campaigns helicopter-ing into Latinx and Black communities just before Election Day to mobilize the party’s reliable “base,” without doing the early-cycle organizing and persuasion work that it does in whiter communities. That must change.
As a new Way to Win study found, the path to victory in 2022 goes straight through communities of color. The party ignores this lesson at its own peril.
The good news for Democrats: state-based Latinx organizations have been producing major electoral gains and offer ripe opportunities for partnership and investment. In Pennsylvania, for instance, our organization Make the Road Action made nearly 4 million direct voter contact attempts in 2020. The same Way to Win analysis found that we generated 150,000 successful conversations with 92,000 individuals. A startling 80 percent voted, compared with 58 percent of those not contacted. Our work in Pennsylvania increased turnout by more than 7,000 net votes—roughly 10 percent of Joe Biden’s margin of victory.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, where Biden’s margin was less than 35,000 votes, our organization completed hundreds of thousands of voter contact attempts to Latinx communities—from the February 2020 caucuses through the general election—to ensure consistent engagement with our neighbors.
How can state-based Latinx organizations like ours have such impact? Because we do year-round organizing on issues that matter to people, we have a track record of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors. Unlike candidates and political groups who parachute in for election season, we have become trusted messengers in critical political geographies like Pennsylvania and Nevada.
As Democrats look ahead to 2022, smart policy-making will be vital, but it won’t be enough on its own. To reverse the softening in support among Latinx voters, Democrats and progressive donors must also shake things up and invest early in state-based partners leading the fight for progressive values year-round.