Union leader vows ‘infrequent’ minority voters will help deliver Biden victory

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President Trump’s allies aren’t the only ones arguing their side is being underrepresented in polling.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said communities of color are being undercounted in surveys but will turn out to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“We’re not going to lose this election,” Henry told The Hill. “We are going to make sure the voters in the communities that didn’t feel spoken to or feel like they had a reason to vote, are able to understand clearly why we have to elect Vice President Biden, Sen. [Kamala] Harris [D-Calif.], and champions up and down the ballot.”

The 2 million member SEIU is focusing its campaign efforts on both union and nonunion workers of color, including some “infrequent voters” who don’t always factor into electoral polling.

“The polls from our perspective are not recording the work that we’re doing in communities of color that have large numbers of infrequent voters that need to be persuaded about why politics matters in their lives and about why they need to show up to vote,” she said.

According to the Pew Research Center, Latino voters will make up the second largest racial or ethnic group of voters in the country for the first time in November’s election, despite being the group with the lowest proportion of eligible voters.

Black voters — the next biggest group — have traditionally had higher rates of participation, but most areas with a high proportion of African American voters are in deep red or deep blue states, somewhat diminishing the group’s voting power.

Since 2000, the Asian and Latino voter bases doubled in size, while Black voters grew by almost a quarter, according to Pew.

Together, minority voters make up about a third of the country’s voting population, but their opinions are often not reflected in national polls because of accessibility issues, language barriers or the “infrequent voter” label.

“We are telling our member leaders and community organizations that we’re working with to ignore the polls,” said Henry. “Everybody has a searing memory of the polls in 2016.”

The results of the 2016 election, where Trump pulled off an Electoral College win despite trailing in national polls and losing the popular vote by about 2 percentage points, increased public skepticism of voter surveys, something Trump has sought to exploit this time around as polls show him behind Biden both nationally and in several battleground states.

Trump last week panned Fox News’s 2016 polling, which on the eve of the election showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a 4-point lead.

“Fox said they were going to change pollsters, but they didn’t. They totally over sample Democrats to a point that a child could see what is going on,” Trump tweeted.

In June, several GOP senators also called into question Trump’s showing in the polls.

Capturing new voters in polls can be challenging, leading to Election Day surprises like Trump’s Midwest support in 2016 and Latino support for Democrats in the Southwest two years ago.

Henry said minority voter turnout this November will be more comparable to 2018, when Latino, Black and Asian voters played a key role in flipping the House.

That turnout was driven in part by candidates like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), whose unsuccessful Senate campaign still helped energize voters to cast ballots for other Democrats.

With the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Henry said SEIU is relying on its deep ties in working-class communities to excite voters and to help them register.

Henry said the SEIU’s $150 million election program reaches voters of color multiple times, through text messages, direct mail and phone calls.

The union is reaching out to voters in battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

“That kind of environment, where it’s about a community effort to show up and change things … I think it’s going to overcome that fear and disillusionment and frankly the division and chaos that the current president is trying to sow and reap,” said Henry.

“We are overcoming that with our ground game even though the ground game is different,” she added.

Bonita Williams, a member of the 32BJ SEIU local who has been involved with political outreach for nearly 20 years, is taking contractual time off from her job cleaning an office building in Virginia this year to canvass for candidates supported by the union.

“This is very hard, it’s very different to just sit in the house and make calls eight hours a day as opposed to walking and knocking on doors,” said Williams. “This coronavirus has really put us in a dilemma.”

Williams said she encountered the most enthusiasm when canvassing for former President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“Everybody wanted to get out and vote,” said Williams. “This happened both times for President Obama.”

And while it’s harder to gauge that level of enthusiasm for Biden by phone, she said, many of the Virginia voters she has talked to say they are ready to learn to vote by mail or brave long lines at the polls amid a pandemic to vote against Trump.

“They’re saying they’d rather go out and vote to get Trump out of the [White House], because they’re saying we can’t take four more years of Trump,” said Williams.

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 election Beto O'Rourke Donald Trump Hillary Clinton infrequent voters Joe Biden Latino voters polls SEIU surveys
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