In a democracy, every election matters. But this year feels different. With America battling a pandemic, suffering the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Recession and confronting overlapping waves of social unrest, the decision of who we choose for elected office couldn’t be more crucial. Despite this, one group that stands to have an outsized impact on this critical election is also one of the most overlooked: young Latinos.
For decades, the voices of Latino voters have been undervalued, often written off or ignored altogether by candidates running for political office. But with some 3.6 million young Latinos who have turned 18 since the 2016 election, they cannot be discounted any longer. This demographic trend represents a watershed moment, not just for Latinos but also for the country we call home.
To better understand this dynamic group and the impact it stands to make, we at Telemundo, in partnership with Buzzfeed News, conducted an in-depth study that included a survey of 1,300 registered Latino voters, ages 18 to 34, and an analysis of public data on this growing demographic. Our research ratified something powerful: young Latinos are the engine of voter growth in America. Period.
Compared to all non-Hispanics, Latinos have been responsible for 100 percent of the growth among young voters ages 18 to 34 since 2008, according to Census data. These young Latinos now make up one-third of voters in their age bracket in the key states of Texas, California, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, which, combined, account for a staggering 144 electoral votes. With this surge of young Latino voters, a record 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this year, making them the largest share of minority voters for the first time. Given the trend lines, that is only the beginning of what could eventually grow into an electoral tidal wave.
Just as significantly, these young Latino voters are motivated. According to our study, nearly two-thirds of them (64 percent) say they “definitely” plan to vote in November and 57 percent report feeling “fired up” about the presidential race. Three-quarters of those surveyed say they consider this election to be more important than 2016.
Despite this, young Latinos still largely go unnoticed by America’s political class. They are rarely courted (and sometimes not even contacted) by parties, campaigns or political organizations. The question facing America’s political decision-makers today is this: Will they have the vision to see what’s right in front of them and seize an opportunity of historic proportions?
What makes this moment uniquely ripe is that a significant portion of young Latino voters —a third of them— are uncommitted to any political party. Mostly born and raised on American soil, they’re grappling with a host of political and social issues. They are educated, confident and dedicated to uplifting their communities. Instilled with their parents’ deep-seated love for the freedom and prosperity this country offers, they’re striving for a stronger and more equitable America.
As a daughter of Latino immigrants, I appreciate and value the energy and sense of possibility that comes with voting in the U.S. Like these young Latinos, when I headed to the ballot box for the first time, I was cognizant I was choosing my future. I knew that I was exercising one of the most sacred rights we have in America, the ability to vote freely and independently, to invest ourselves in shaping the country’s future for the better.
That is a heavy responsibility, as it should be. Nothing is more quintessentially American —and no symbol of our patriotism more powerful— than when young Latinos participate in their first democratic process and experience the same sense of gravity, meaning and commitment. The living embodiment of their Latino parents’ and grandparents’ deepest aspirations, raised with American values, they are more than just an electoral force but a 21st century manifestation of the American Dream.
Whether or not America’s political class wakes up to their vast potential, young Latinos will exert an impact on not just this election but the future of this country. They are moved by the most important social, political and civic issue of our day — equal treatment for all — with 85 percent saying issues that address racial inequality and systemic barriers are most likely to motivate them to vote. That’s not a surprise considering almost three-quarters (73 percent) of young Latinos polled report that they, their family or friends have been the target of racism over the past two years and nearly half (45 percent) have been told to stop speaking Spanish in public. Fearless, compassionate and thoughtful, they are determined to create a better America — not just for themselves, but for everyone.
Given all this, it’s clear that young Latinos will make their political homes wherever they see their values being respected and exercised. When asked to name a political candidate who has gone out of her or his way to support Latino communities, a third of young Latinos could not name a single person. That’s where the opportunity lies for all political parties and groups seeking to tap this precious resource.
Reaching out to young Latinos is a great start. But it won’t be enough. To sway them, to really convince them, political candidates and their support networks will have to make a case that they see Latinos — especially young Latinos — as part of the fabric of this nation, as wholly, proudly and inherently American. After all, these young Americans represent the future of our country. It’s their demands and hopes — for more and for better, for everyone — that will pave a way forward for our nation. And what could be a greater opportunity than that?
Monica Gil is chief administrative and marketing officer at NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises where she oversees research, marketing, operations and corporate affairs, among several other areas. A seasoned media executive and an expert in the Hispanic market, she is credited for transforming the company’s marketing organization and helping drive its rise to become the number one Spanish-language network for three consecutive years.