A recent Washington Post article spoke with several people involved in the Latino community about the challenges Hillary Clinton and Democrats still face in reaching Latino voters. While the theme of the piece was bleak, I’m here to tell you that all is not lost! In fact, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the Democratic Party can still bring out historic levels of the Latino vote, with some very simple adjustments.
The Clinton campaign is already undertaking some of the necessary steps to maximize the Latino vote in places like Nevada and Florida. But who is going to do the same for the seemingly uncontested Arizona Senate seat or the 23rd Congressional District in Texas where Presidential campaigns have little to no influence on voter Latino turnout?
Donald Trump’s insubstantial policies and demeaning rhetoric has opened the door to highlight the vast ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans regarding Latinos. However, this can only be done by keeping the following five things in mind:
1. Be Culturally Competent
Hire staff, leadership, and consultants from the Latino communities Democrats are trying to organize in. Yes, I know your media consultant thinks that translating an English TV ad to Spanish is enough to fulfill your "Latino outreach" plan, but that could not be further from the truth. Most modern campaigns make the mistake of seeing the Latino community as a monolithic group. The truth is not all Latino communities are the same. For example, some do not like to be referred to as Latinos. Some communities would much rather be called Hispanics, or in the case of northern New Mexico, they prefer The First Americans (Spanish Land Grants). Success with Latinos begins with understanding the cultural nuances within the community.
2. Focus on Issues that Matter Most
According to recent polling, 63% of Latino voters in America said they personally knew someone who is an undocumented immigrant, either a member of their own family or a close friend. While immigration is an important issue for Latinos across the board, it is an “issue of the heart” because many Latinos have a personal and emotional connection to the outcomes of immigration policy. However, It may come to a surprise to learn that immigration is not rated as one of the top three most important issues for Latinos. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that most Latino voters identify the economy, healthcare, and education as the top three most important issues. This is why Bernie Sanders won with Latinos under the age of 35 in all states during the primaries. He talked about a plan for immigration reform, while also highlighting free public education and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A key strategy is to draw the difference between the Democratic candidate and their contender based on their immigration stance, and then hit them with messages concerning economic healthcare, and education policy.
3. Communicate Your Message Correctly
If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Your position on issues can “perfectly” align with Latinos' but the Latino community needs to hear it. What I have found after running campaigns for over 20 years is that Latinos seek their information in two different languages. On average, the Latino voter communicates about 25% in all English, 36% in all Spanish, and the rest in a mixture of both. That means that if you just run your consultant’s 30 second, translated ad in Spanish, you’re only talking to about 50% of the Latinos voters in your race, assuming they’re watching TV at all. This is also true when administering ads for a medium Latinos heavily use: the radio. Latinos’ radio preferences range from the good old, knob-tuning radio to listening to hits from Pitbull to Maná on Pandora. A Latino targeted radio message can have great results by taking into account the language range of Latino listeners. Another fact to bring to light is that 13% of Latinos depends on their smartphone for internet access. This is primarily because many Latinos do not have computers at home, leaving them to rely on their phones. Keep these statistics in mind when choosing where and how to deliver your message. If you deliver a message in English only or Spanish only, you minimize the efficacy of ads to Latinos, making bilingual messaging worth your while.
4. View Targeting as an Investment in Voters
Latinos are NOT base votes for Democrats. Yes, a national average of 71% voted for President Obama in 2012, but in 2004, George Bush got 44% of the same Latino vote. So, don't limit your focus by targeting Latinos who are “prime” voters - voters with a regular voting history. Campaigns do this all the time to maximize budgets, but it results in thousands of Latino voters being excluded. Here is why: 66,000 Latinos turn 18 every month, which means they have yet to build a voting history. This minimizes their chances of being contacted by a campaign. Another group with a lack of voting history are the growing number of Puerto Ricans who have moved to Florida which has increased by 110% from 2000 to 2014. These are just two examples of groups that get frequently overlooked during campaigns when instead they should maximize the Democratic vote.
5. Understand the Latino Vote is Not Secondary
Latino outreach should not be classified as a secondary market. Every campaign starts with the best of intentions. They begin by creating budgets to maximize turnout and they run robust operations to get those swing voters in the suburbs on board by using yard signs or Facebook ads. But as campaigns progress, those budget goals become more difficult to attain and things have to be cut. Normally, one of the first things to go is the overall funding of the Latino/Hispanic outreach campaign. The Latino community should not be taken for granted as Democratic voters. Instead, the Democratic Party must recognize that Latino outreach is just as important as white suburban outreach and allocate funding equally to reflect that view. Only then will you see a major shift in the electorate.
The Democratic Party and many of our candidates have found themselves in the middle of a perfect storm with Donald Trump and his "build a wall" campaign. We have seen this story before with the former Governor of California, Pete Wilson, and his Proposition 187 attacking Latinos and immigrants. To counter this proposition, there was a $40 million investment specifically for Latino voter outreach. This turned California into the deep blue state with Latinos as a Speaker and a President of the Senate. Today, we can find examples of Latino investment in committees like the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. For the first time in its history, a Latino, Congressman Ben Ray Luján, was appointed chairman. Congressman Luján has positioned the committee to make gains with both Democrats and Latinos in Congress and are doing more Latino outreach than I have ever seen in my 24 years of running campaigns.
As a final thought and reminder, there are plenty of organizations that have been involved in Latino communities for years. Organizations such as LULAC and NCLR are facing less funding than in past election cycles but are viewed as extremely effective organizers when they are on the ground. These are people who are already trusted by locals, experienced in communicating bilingually, and ready to do the work - investing in their platform will prove to be beneficial. The Democratic party still has time to capitalize from the Latino vote and with more money being spent in this year’s election than ever before, it would behove them to acknowledge the powerhouse that can be created from investing in the Latino community.