Hispanic enthusiasm for election takes back seat to COVID-19, economy

Hispanic enthusiasm for election takes back seat to COVID-19, economy
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Enthusiasm among Hispanic voters is stagnating less than four months before the election, despite well-funded efforts by both the Trump and Biden campaigns to win over Latinos.

According to a new survey by Latino Decisions — a polling outfit that specializes in gauging Hispanic voter attitudes — only 46 percent of Hispanic respondents nationwide say they are extremely motivated and enthusiastic about voting in November. Fifty-nine percent said they will definitely vote on Election Day.

The survey was commissioned by Voter Participation Center and Voto Latino, and interviewed 1,200 Latino voters.

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But between now and then, many Hispanics are focused on the more immediate and dire concerns of the coronavirus and its effect on their livelihood.

"I think it's the twin challenges of COVID-19 and the way that the economy is hitting our community in particular," said Danny Friedman, managing director of Voto Latino. "It's causing the election and voting outcome to be not top of mind.”

The economic impact of the pandemic has led to soaring unemployment rates among Hispanics — more so than many other demographics — and the medical effects of the coronavirus have revealed longstanding disparities in health care coverage.

And Latinos who remain employed are much more likely to work in essential jobs, where the probability of contagion is higher.

Hispanic leaders are looking to overcome those challenges as November draws near. Although Latino voter participation has historically been low compared to other groups, community leaders hope to build on the historically high midterm participation rates.

Low turnout among Hispanics would deal a blow to former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he is 'seriously' considering a capital gains tax cut Why Joe Biden is in trouble Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE and Democrats who are looking to expand their electoral map into battleground states like Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. The Latino Decisions poll found that enthusiasm in those states were comparable to the nationwide figures.

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Democrats are hoping that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE’s rhetoric on immigration will galvanize Latinos and boost turnout. But the Trump campaign is also making a play for Latinos, a group that could tip the balance in a number of battleground states that could be too close to call on election night.

Trump last week announced his Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order focused on education — consistently a top issue for Latinos — that will expand school choice and support for Hispanic-serving institutions.

That unveiling, however, was overshadowed by remarks from Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue at the White House presentation. Unanue praised Trump for his leadership, prompting progressives to call for a boycott of the company's products, a staple in many Hispanic kitchens in the United States.

The Biden campaign last week announced its Latino Leadership Initiative, a group of Hispanic leaders led by former Obama Cabinet members Hilda Solis and Ken Salazar.

"We're going to have to do a lot in terms of voter education, doing some micro-targeting in different regions of the country, Florida, Arizona. Obviously a puertorriqueño doesn't talk the same way as a Mexicano, or a Nicaragüense or a Colombiano," former Labor Secretary Solis told The Hill.

Democrats recently launched Spanish-language ads, including one that’s delivered in different regional accents across the country.

The Biden approach has so far attracted Hispanic political leaders, while the Trump campaign has focused more on Latino business leaders.

But with the recent polling, the concern now is whether Hispanics will show up to vote in November.

"Typically, Latinx folks don't get a lot of direct communication from campaigns," said Friedman. "The Biden camp is doing a better job than they did earlier in the cycle, but there's still work to be done."

Groups like Voto Latino are relentlessly pursuing an expansion of early and mail-in voting, particularly in battleground states, with the goal of minimizing the health risks associated with in-person voting on Election Day this year.

But those efforts come with cultural challenges. While Hispanics have historically embraced early in-person voting, they have been less willing to vote by mail.

Friedman said initiatives to expand voting alternatives are welcome, but implementation and education of newly registered voters will take time.

High turnout among Hispanics, though beneficial to Biden, wouldn’t be an across-the-board win for Democrats.

A large majority of Latinos plan to vote for Biden, but Trump's approval rating is relatively high among Hispanics.

The president’s personal favorability among Hispanics is just 32 percent, according to the Latino Decisions survey, but his job approval rating is 42 percent.

Still, 60 percent of respondents said they will likely vote for Biden, 25 percent for Trump and 11 percent say they’re undecided.

The poll was conducted June 7-19 among 1,200 Latinos with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. Participants included 200 people each from Arizona, Florida, Texas, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Hispanic turnout was lagging other groups in 2016. According to the Pew Research Center, 65.3 percent of white eligible voters voted four years ago, along with 59.6 percent of Black voters, 49.3 of Asians and 47.6 of Hispanics.

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The Biden camp is bullish that the contrast between the two candidates will motivate a substantial number of Hispanics to cast ballots and surprise pollsters with high participation rates, much like in 2018.

There are high expectations for increased Hispanic turnout in 2020, as Latino voters react to Trump's rhetoric and as the pandemic and economic fallout disproportionately affect the community.

"We're going to have a huge Latino voter turnout and we believe Joe Biden represents the views and aspirations of Latinos, much more than Donald Trump," said former Interior Secretary Salazar. "I think we're going to smash the records, because the Latino community has been attacked relentlessly by Donald Trump.”