"If Latinos don't vote, it is hard to feel sorry for the consequences affecting them. They should realize that and who their friends are. PLEASE EMPHASIZE TO THESE FOLKS THAT IF THEY DON'T VOTE THEY WILL BE FURTHER WORSE OFF. AND IF THEY DON'T VOTE; DON'T COMPLAIN."
That's from an email I just received from a major progressive donor in New York.
During an election year, sometime between Labor Day and Election Day, national news outlets and talking heads routinely raise the issue of how the emerging Latino vote will affect the outcome -- and the hand-wringing begins.
After the vote, as quickly as it came up, the "sleeping giant" narrative disappears until the next election year -- as Latino voters are largely forgotten by the media and political entities alike.
From my perspective, this year is no different, and headlines predicting electoral doom for Democrats at the hands of an underperforming Latino electorate are alarming yes, but they are mostly wrong.
In 2016, the share of Latino voters grew from 8.4% (in 2012) to 9.2%, though overall turnout did drop slightly from 2012 (by less than half a point), according to the US Census. The fact is, though, Latinos made up a bigger slice of the electoral pie and continued to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
But inaccurate Election Day exit polls showed significant Latino support for Trump, leading some to blame Latinos for losing the White House. In reality, a whopping 79% of Latinos who voted did so for Hillary Clinton, according to the Latino Decisions' 2016 Election Eve poll. Even more impressive, 86% of voting Latinas voted for her, while a majority of white women voters voted for Trump.
With just a short time now until the November 6th midterm election, I am confident Latinos will vote, (polls tell us they are motivated in this election), but there are three critical factors that will influence their participation.
Candidates. Investments. Messengers.
Candidates are key. Having someone on the ballot who represents the values of the Latino community is perceived as an advocate. A candidate who looks and sounds like the district is key to motivating Latino voters to participate in the process. Yes, Latinos overwhelmingly despise Trump, but they still need something and someone to vote for.
If you are a local, state or national party working on candidate recruitment or if you are just someone with an ego who decides it's time to run, stop and look around the district.
Is it a majority Latino or otherwise diverse and young district? If it is, ask yourself: Are you recruiting the right candidate? Or, are you the one? Do you think you can inspire?
Simply put, authentic candidates who reflect the values of the Latino community will increase Latino political participation.
Investments are critical. A recent Latino Decisions poll found more than 84% of Latinos say they are certain to or probably will vote in the 2018 midterm elections. Unfortunately, the same poll also found that fewer than half of Latinos surveyed reported being contacted by a candidate.
Party committees, candidates and outside groups make hard choices about how to spend their limited resources. But when the path to victory depends on the Latino vote, making a real investment to fully engage the community is absolutely critical.
Translating ads into Spanish in the closing days of an election has never been enough, and never less so than today.
Investing early, placing Latinos in key staffing roles and hiring Latino consultants is a step in the right direction. That's exactly what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, under the leadership of US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, did last year in preparation for the 2018 midterm election.
Messengers matter. This is probably the hardest thing to correct in our political infrastructure, but it has to change because Latinos care about who talks to them about voting.
Effective engagement must go beyond translating ads from English to Spanish.
It must include culturally-aware messengers and messages tailored to connect with the right segments of this increasingly diverse population -- Puerto Ricans and Cubans in Florida, Dominicans in New York, fourth-generation Mexicans in California versus first-generation Mexicans in the Midwest.
And who does this best? Well, people from the community of course.
No offense to my friends in the progressive movement, but if you run a political entity that needs to engage Latino voters and you have zero Latino staffers, commit early to working with your partners to ensure your Latino advertising is effective. And if you're a donor who is counting on Latinos to win your races, kindly put your money where your mouth is.
In US Rep. Darren Soto's competitive August primary in Florida, Latino Victory Fund invested over half a million dollars in culturally-competent community outreach, Spanish-language radio and TV, bilingual direct mail and mobile texting programs.
In the end, the 2018 primary turnout doubled from 2016 (a presidential year) and Soto, a Democrat, won by a 34% margin, considerably ahead of the 7-point lead he held before LVF launched the independent expenditure campaign in the district, which has a high percentage of Puerto Rican voters.
Fellow Democrats, Latinos vote -- if and when, they are engaged. Focusing on them only in the closing days of an election and then directing blame at them for not turning out in higher numbers is a losing plan.
Instead, support the right candidates, make meaningful investments early and remember that messengers matter.
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