Lately, we've seen a number of reporters and political analysts exploring the role that Latino voters will play in the rapidly-approaching 2014 midterm elections. Many share the tone of a recent CBS News piece, "Do Latino voters matter in the midterm election?" in which Rebecca Kaplan wonders whether Hispanic voters have the numbers -- and the motivation -- to turn out and vote in a midterm election to sway several key races across the country.
What Kaplan neglects to mention, in her otherwise balanced piece, is that several of these races are so close that even a small voting population can tip the scales between winning and losing, if candidates make the effort. Take the Georgia and Kansas Senate contests. In both cases, polling shows the races so closely fought that no single candidate has even a 1-percent lead over their opponent.
When your political future rests on the balance of less than one percent of the voters, you would be foolish not to engage with the small but highly-motivated Latino electorate in your state.
Take even the briefest of looks at polling for the Georgia Senate race, and you'll learn that neither candidate can afford to rest easy. The race is close enough that it's anyone's guess who is ahead at this point. Real Clear Politics gives Republican candidate David Perdue a minuscule 0.5-percent edge over his opponent, Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn. A 0.005-point lead is, of course, not really a true lead at all.
Turning to the Kansas Senate race, we find candidates Greg Orman and Pat Roberts as closely-matched as Perdue and Nunn. On average, polling places Orman at a 0.9-percent lead over Roberts. As in Georgia, a figure so small means that the race might as well be considered a dead heat.
Less than a week out from Election Day, both races remain neck-and-neck contests. None of the candidates involved can afford to lose votes at this point -- whether by failing to win over undecided voters or by failing to motivate voters to come out to the polls. Significantly for the Georgia and Kansas races, both states feature a Hispanic electorate that, while small in number, turns out to vote at disproportionately high rates. An impressive 81-percent of registered Latino voters in Georgia voted in the 2012 elections, while 61% of registered Latino voters in Kansas went to the polls that same year.
Latino voters will matter in the 2014 midterm elections, particularly in races as close as these contests Kansas and Georgia. Just do the math -- if 81% of Georgia's about 111,000 registered Latino voters, comprising 1.8% of the electorate, turn out to the polls, winning that group of voters would be more than enough to push a candidate over the 0.005 margin needed for victory. If you don't want to pull out your calculator, Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions has ran the numbers for you. He's found that in both Kansas and Georgia, "the Latino share of the eligible electorate is larger than the current polling margin between the two candidates."
The route to victory and support among the Latino electorate is through genuine engagement of the community. As we've demonstrated in state-level polling done in partnership with Latino Decisions in Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado, Latino voters are motivated by issues - not necessarily by candidates or their party affiliation. If candidates fail to deliver on the issues that Latino voters care about -- immigration reform, health care and Medicaid expansion, jobs and the economy, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring adequate school funding -- they should not be surprised when they fail to win many Latino votes.
With razor thin margins of victory, there is zero room for error when it comes to courting the Latino vote in races like the Georgia and Kansas senatorial contests.