As the fastest growing demographic, the Latino community remains a key portion of the electorate that can be the catalyst for huge victories, especially in states as large as Arizona, Florida and Texas. Surprisingly, both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden failed to make inroads with Latino voters in key states, costing large portions of electoral votes. This is due, in part, to aggressive campaigning by Republicans in crucial swing states and, in part, because of the wide spectrum of the Democratic party.
In Florida, Donald Trump won among Cubans and Venezuelans by claiming Democrats’ tax and health care policies are socialist while simultaneously accusing the left of attacking religion. In Texas, conservatives have capitalized on “law and order” messages, which impact the Latino community that is heavily employed in border patrol law enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley. In the weeks leading up to the election, there was a rise of social media posts and TV ads in Spanish that featured misinformation attacking Biden.
At the same time, Democrats are vexed with balancing tradition with more progressive platforms such as defunding the police. This is one area in which Republicans have sardonically backed Democrats into a corner by forcing them to either appeal to the traditional and moderate portion of Latinos or put more progressive policies on the chopping block and risk losing younger voters. Democrats have prided themselves on fostering a diverse electorate, but such diversity has also caused disassociation between the oldest and youngest portions of Latino Democrats. The capricious voting patterns of Latinos make them significant in all elections with votes that cannot be acquiesced easily.
There are very few roads to the White House that did not pass through the Latino community, yet they are rarely valued — until election season, that is. There is a concept jokingly referred to as Christopher Columbus syndrome in which people suddenly discover the importance of concepts that already existed; in this case, it is the Latino community and their respective votes.
Latinos cannot be taken for granted, because they have the power to alter the direction of significant elections. 32 million Latinos were eligible to vote this election season, which made them the largest racial minority exceeding the number of Black voters for the first time. The Latino population is expected to grow to 100 million in the coming decades. The metastasization of the Latino population further supports the notion that no candidate can secure a win without this crucial demographic.
Empirically, Latinos have already demonstrated their power to influence election outcomes. In 2016, half of the Latino population eligible to vote did not turn out, and the wins for Trump in Florida and Arizona propelled him to victory. Had the turnout among the Latino community been higher, there is a strong possibility that Hillary Clinton could have been running for a second term in 2020, but alas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin secured the lead for Trump.
In addition, the Latino vote is important because Latinos have historically been underrepresented and the community has endured several wrongs in need of policy solutions, starting with immigration. Biden promised a path to citizenship for Dreamers, but under the Obama administration, the vice president failed to offer any immigration reform and instead deported over three million undocumented citizens. Biden’s supple promises could have also caused lower turnout among the community, but when he finally settles into the White House, Biden will be forced to answer for his failings on immigration in the past and show what he will do for immigrants, especially those in the Latino community, going forward.
Finally, neither party can overlook the importance of Latinos in shaping election outcomes because 2020 will mark a turning point in history when citizens, especially minorities, are tired of having politicians merely listen to their concerns; accurate representation is now on the horizon. As a demographic that makes up over 18% of the population, Latinos are severely underrepresented in policy decisions and face high entry barriers to political offices. The last several administrations have failed to answer the demands of the Latino community, and it’s clear that the best remedy is to elect candidates that look like Latinos.