Updated October 26, 2020 - 3:35 pm
In 2020, the sleeping giant has awakened.
Over the last 30 years, the Latinx community has been called “the sleeping giant” when it comes to participating in elections: It’s a large part of the population, but it tends not to be politically active for various reasons.
But in this election, a record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote, up from 27.3 million in 2016. The 2020 election will mark the first time that Hispanics will be the largest racial and ethnic minority group in the electorate, accounting for just more than 13 percent of eligible voters in the country, according to the Pew Research Center.
“And we understand why it may be a challenge for some Latinos to turn out to vote,” College of Southern Nevada political science professor Keith Fernandez said. “There can be language barriers, they might not care or feel empowered to vote, and of course, immigration status and citizenship status are issues too.”
In Nevada, 30 percent of the population is Latino or Hispanic, according to Pew research data from the 2016 election. About half are eligible to vote.
“About more than half of Latinos (who are) eligible to vote, voted,” said John Tuman, a UNLV political science professor. “It’s still competitive, and when the race is competitive the Latino turnout can be the margin of victory or defeat.”
In 2016, Donald Trump lost Nevada by 27,202 votes, about 2 percent of the vote. Democrats and Republicans are investing heavily in outreach to win the Latinx community’s vote this election, building on the success of four years ago, when Latinos made history by electing the country’s first Latina U.S. senator, Catherine Cortez-Masto, said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, another Latina elected that year.
A unique community
The Latinx community itself is not monolithic; there are a variety of cultures, traditions and generations with different ideas, beliefs and motivations, Fernandez said. The outreach strategies must be tailored to match that uniqueness, especially when the Latino community relies heavily on word-of-mouth for information.
“Just like anything else in life, if you invest, you’ll get a return,” said Assemblyman Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas. “Often we’ve argued, ‘Oh, well, Latinos don’t vote,’ I’ve always countered that with, ‘Well, where’s the investment to prove that?’”
Both presidential campaigns have invested in advertising in English and Spanish, via TV, radio, social media and mail, to target Latino voters and inform them on issues such as health care, the economy and immigration. But that has not been enough: This year, campaigns have been much more personalized with events and volunteering outreach centered around the Latino community.
The Democratic voter activation office in east Las Vegas opened this campaign season with that goal in mind. Volunteers are in the heart of the community, where they can create a presence and relationships with people while spreading their candidate’s message.
In September, Flores organized a horse parade to promote his re-election and support of the Biden-Harris ticket in North Las Vegas. A community of horse owners that didn’t realize they had any type of political influence quickly went viral on social media.
“The Latino community has always felt left out. So one of the few things that we’re doing now is we’ve identified things that are unique to the Latino community that sometimes you may find creative or different, but really it’s just a lifestyle,” Flores said. “And we’re bringing them into this world (of political engagement), so that they can learn that they have a voice and presence … It’s just another way of reminding folk that you don’t have to say much. Your presence is strong.”
The core of the Democratic strategy is prioritizing the Latinx community; a third of the campaign staffers are Hispanic, said Adrian Eng-Gastelum, Nevada press secretary for the Biden-Harris campaign. The party encourages supporters to speak to their family, friends, neighbors or anyone within their circle of influence about Biden and his promises.
“You try to go into that community and implement your strategy, your techniques, your traditional methods of getting people motivated — and that’s where it fails,” Flores said. “Because if you want a specific community to get motivated, you have to go into that community and you see what they do.”
Constanza Mancilla de Areizaga, a business owner and Trump supporter, created her own outreach effort called Quiero Saber (“I Want to Know”) after feeling Latinos For Trump could use a boost in their outreach. She and her husband have spent more than $23,000 of their savings on literature and billboards to reach and mobilize the Latino community.
“Hispanic people are smart people, the disadvantage that they had is that they just haven’t had proper marketing,” Mancilla de Areizaga said. “And you can talk, talk, talk, but you’ve got to put it into action, you’ve got to have a strategy, you’ve got to be very personal with people and have that communication.”
The Quiero Saber strategy is to guide supporters to the Latinos For Trump office after informing them about the differences between the two candidates through bilingual flyers and discussions at supermarkets, churches, the swap meet, restaurants and visiting neighborhoods and knocking on doors. Mancilla de Areizaga said she has met people that have told her no one has walked up to them before to personally inform them about a candidate.
Latinos For Trump has organized and conducted events within the community at its east Las Vegas office nearly every week, said Jesus Marquez, political consultant and co-chair of the Latinos for Trump coalition.
The important issues
Issues are important motivators for voting. A Univision News poll published Sept. 28, shows the top five concerns for U.S. Latinos are the response to COVID-19 (40 percent), lowering the costs of health care (28 percent), improving wages and incomes (25 percent), unemployment/creating more jobs (25 percent) and protecting immigrant rights (20 percent).
“We Latinos are so different. We are so different,” Marquez said. “We are not monolithic either. So we think differently and we have different views. Different ideas originate from different countries in Latin America. The main thing is that we are here to achieve an American Dream and the way we achieve that American dream is by having a good economy, good opportunities and good education.”
Fernandez explained that some migrant families that left their country of origin because of political oppression or corruption may not have a positive attitude toward politics and might even distrust the government. These feelings and lack of political socialization and engagement can be passed down to their children and then they might not turn out to vote either.
“We have to continue to educate people, and in Spanish, about why they should be voting …” Mancilla de Areizaga said. “Because it takes years and years and years to open up that door of communication with people.”
Motivation also lies in the leadership and direct impact of policies on the community. But outreach leaders from both parties agreed that the best way to motivate Latinos is by hearing the message from other Latinos, people who live in their community, look like them, speak their language and can talk to them face to face — which was a challenge to conquer this campaigning season because of COVID-19.
“That’s how you really empower a community to continue to stay involved,” Flores said. “The whole point is that the community needs to realize that when you’re involved when you vote, you give yourself a little bit of institutional power, a legislative power, economic power… that as a consequence to their involvement in this process, their community is better off because of it.”
A previous version of this story misstated the first name of UNLV professor John Tuman.
Contact Jannelle Calderon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NewsyJan on Twitter.