Ignored Latino vote will be key in future elections

Ignored Latino vote will be key in future elections
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With less than six weeks left before the midterm elections, political analysts across the country are desperately trying to find the right mix of voters to target in their efforts and there’s a huge constituency they’d be fools to continue to overlook. According to a new poll conducted by Latino Decisions for NALEO, 60 percent of all Latino voters had not been contacted to register to vote. As in previous election cycles, Latino voters are at risk of being ignored again.

Democrats take Latinos for granted and Republicans are scared to talk to us because of immigration issues. The truth is, there’s a self-perpetuating system that’s been condemning this group of voters to political purgatory and nobody has yet had the cojones to break it open. Campaigns and candidates bucket Latinos as “low propensity voters” and don’t reach out to them. Without the outreach, many Latinos don’t vote.

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Both parties ignore Latino voters at their own peril. Latino voters are the fastest growing and most persuadable voting bloc in this country and that should scare the bejesus out of everyone in politics. Their voting pattern during the past four cycles illustrates they can swing from right to left: Twice they helped George W. Bush get elected, who won more than 40 percent of the Latino vote, and twice they voted for Obama, who won more than 60 percent of the Latino vote.

While immigration has become a flash point in politics today, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE demonizing immigrants since he started running for office in 2015, immigration is not the most important issue that all Latino voters care about. The most important issues for Latinos (and all Americans for that matter) are jobs and the economy, followed by education and healthcare. 

Why? Because 85 percent of the 60 million Latinos in this country are citizens. The narrative you see on television news around undocumented immigrants would have you believe all Latinos are undocumented — not true. Roughly half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are not Hispanic. 

It’s time to shift the political focus to the 60 million Americans of Latino descent who are citizens and can vote. Our power at the ballot box has not been felt yet. But it will be. For one, Latinos very young demographic with an average age of 29, versus the average of 43 for non-Hispanic whites. Over one-third of the 60 million Latinos in this country today are under the voting age, but every year 800,000 of them turn 18. Second, of the 27 million Hispanics in the U.S. who are eligible to vote, only 14 million are registered making this cohort a sorely overlooked winning mid-term campaign strategy.

All campaign operatives know that every vote counts. Smart ones look closely at the landscape of voters and capitalize on every voter they need to win. Latinos have proven their impact for both parties: Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe was elected governor of Virginia in the 2013 special election by a margin of 2.5 percent. While Hispanics represented only 3 percent of the registered voters in that election, he won 80 of their vote. 

On the other side of the country in San Diego, California, Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer beat out a Hispanic candidate in a city that’s overwhelmingly Latino and where registered voters are split evenly between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The very first ad he ran in his 2014 election was in Spanish and he continues to court the Latino vote today.

We’re seeing it in the Texas Senate race between Beto O’Rouke and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE, in California’s 45th District, and Florida’s 26thDistrict — where Latinos represent a large percentage of registered voters. We may also see a Latino effect in non-traditional states like Georgia or Ohio or even in West Virginia’s 3rd District, where a Latino who voted for Trump in 2016 is running as a pro-labor, pro-gun Democrat. 

The U.S. Hispanic population is not a niche segment, we represent 18 percent of the total population — that’s nearly one-in-five Americans — and will contribute 54 percent of the total population growth over the next 10 years.

Both parties and all political operatives better figure out how to attract these voters to their camp. Because in the not too distant future our political system — our democracy itself — will depend on how Latinos vote. That’s why Latinos will be key to these 2018 midterm elections where so many important races will decide the balance of power in Washington.

Chiqui Cartagena is the author of “Latino Boom II: Catch the Biggest Demographic Wave since the Baby Boom” and the former senior vice president of policy and advocacy at Univision Communications, Inc.