By Ben Monterroso and César Martínez
Two realities emerged in the wake of the 2018 midterm elections: Latinos won and President Trump’s campaign of hate and fear lost. His losses in the election that he made a referendum on his presidency, were, to use one of his favorite words, HUGE.
Latinos voter turnout was higher than expected, mostly motivated by anger at Trump’s racism and anti-immigrant messaging, influencing the outcomes in major U.S. Senate, gubernatorial, congressional and down ballot races. There will be at least 36 Latinos in the House and four in the Senate when the next session of Congress convenes in January.
Republican members of Congress in battleground districts failed to get needed Latino votes and lost their seats due to Trump’s decision to fire up his extremely conservative base of supporters by maligning Latino and immigrant communities.
Now is not the time to rest. Campaigns and candidates must begin practicing the lessons learned this year if they want to secure the votes of the ever-growing Latino electorate in the 2020 presidential election year.
Here are five key points to consider going forward regarding Latino voters:
1. Do not ignore the obvious: Like it or not, Latinos are the fastest segment of the electorate, and ignoring us is political suicide. Every year, an estimated 800,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote. In the just completed election cycle, Latinos under the age of 25 made up one-third of the voter registrations gathered by Mi Familia Vota in the six states where we operate: AZ, CA, CO, FL, NV, and TX. A major part of Mi Familia Vota’s social media messaging to Latino millennials including 13 videos by actress Diane Guerrero. Overall, there are 85 percent of 60 million Latinos in the U.S. are citizens. Put plainly: our voting numbers are huge and growing each year.
2. The “do not ignore us” message applies to political parties and all candidates. Among Latino voters, 74 percent said the Republican Party was hostile or ignored our community before the elections, according to the American Election Eve Poll 2018 conducted by Latino Decisions. But Democrats also can improve, with 39 percent of Latinos registering the same complaint about the lack of direct outreach.
3. Direct contact with voters, whether through knocking on doors or telephone calls, really matters. In Texas, where Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s campaign engaged in massive in-person voter outreach — he lost his race but his coattails helped elect several party candidates in other races — 74 percent of Latinos chose him according to the Election Eve Poll. In Florida, where Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson’s campaign’s contact with Latino voters was lacking, support was 61 percent, according to the poll. Nelson lost to his challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, by 10,033 votes out of 8.2 million cast.
4. We say it after every election, and say it again: Organizing the Latino community is a year-round campaign, and attempts to engage the Latino electorate weeks ahead of an election is a huge mistake. Mi Familia Vota produced USA Tu Poder PSAs featuring Maria Elena Salinas, which regularly aired on television throughout election season. We also undertook an unprecedented (for a Latino nonprofit) nearly $300,000 paid television, radio and social media advertising campaign because of a lack of direct messaging to Latino voters in English and Spanish media. The ad, “Trumpadas,” a dramatization of Trump’s continued slaps against the Latino and immigrant communities, tapped into our communities’ anger to motivate Latinos to fight back by voting. One major political committee did paid advertising to Latino voters just days before the election, but community trust will only be secured through sustained civic engagement activities, like those conducted by Mi Familia Vota.
5. Do not assume that Trump will continue being the key factor that drives anti-Trump Latinos to the polls. Trump’s demonization of immigrants backfired among all voters, including whites, according to the Election Eve Poll. With the Trump facing political or legal challenges, we are not 100 percent certain he will be leading the GOP’s 2020 ticket. Politicians would be wise to compete for the Latino vote. Stop scapegoating immigrant communities or, conversely, taking our votes for granted. Enact commonsense immigration solutions and move on to other matters Latinos care about like improving wages and lowering health care costs.
Engaging Latinos in 2020 starts now because, as we proved this year, Mi Familia Sí Vota.
Ben Monterroso is executive director of Mi Familia Vota and César Martínez is president of MAS Consulting. This article was published in Spanish by Univision.