We’ve seen some great analysis of the Latino vote and how Democrats underperformed in places like Texas and Florida since the election. Cue in the usual observations: Latinos are not a monolith. Latinos are the largest nonwhite voting bloc in the electorate. We must do better.
But these narratives are not new. Journalists like Marc Caputo of Politico and Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times have been closely covering Latino outreach efforts, the cultural nuances and differences within the electorate, and how issues like misinformation and Latin American foreign policy affects voting behavior.
Next, we see the usual finger pointing and post-election upheaval. The Florida Democratic Party failed Latinos, the Biden campaign didn’t prioritize the Latino vote, and Democrats missed Donald Trump’s appeal to Latino voters.
Much is said about the mistakes that are made in Latino outreach, but often, no tangible solutions are offered for campaigns, PACs, and C3 organizations to adopt.
A+G has experience organizing and developing media strategies in heavily Latino states like Texas, Florida, Virginia, California, New Jersey, and Colorado. We’ve had success turning out infrequent voters and persuading moderates by running a consistent playbook that embodies the necessary cultural competency to connect with the Latino community. This playbook entails knowing your audience, engaging Latinos early and often, and developing messaging strategies that focus on the economy and highlight a candidate’s personality.
Part I: Know Your Audience
The most important question you can ask yourself and your team before launching any Latino engagement efforts is, “who is our audience?”
What part of the country are you in? Where are your voters from? Mexico? Nicaragua? Cuba? Puerto Rico? Venezuela?
This is crucial. Latinos possess a vast amount of shared values but differ on their politics due to the differences in culture stemming from where they live in the US and what their country of origin is along with its associated history and sociopolitical dynamics.
Mexicans in Texas do not vote like Mexicans in Arizona or Nevada. The organizing infrastructure, labor unions, and the youth vote mean that states like Nevada and Arizona have a bluer Latino electorate that is more actively involved in politics than Texas.
Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania don’t vote like Puerto Ricans in Florida. Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania are much more likely to have lived in the United States for a longer period of time and to be English-dominant while Puerto Ricans in Florida are more likely to be newer arrivals to the US and to be Spanish-dominant.
It’s important to know about nuances like this, why they exist, and how they affect voting behavior.
So ask yourself, “how long has your audience lived in the US? How long have they been voting? How much money do they make? What is the educational divide? How do they identify racially?”
The longer a Latino lives in the United States positively correlates with increasingly conservative voting behavior. We see this trend among middle class Cubans, Venezuelans, and Colombians in Florida to great effect. It’s also seen with the working class, mostly lower income Mexican voters along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas which swung to the right in 2020 despite voting overwhelmingly for Democrats in the past.
Last question: Are you activating nonvoters? Persuading moderates? Motivating young progressive activists?
It’s important to keep in mind that Latinos are not natural Democrats or Republicans. This past election has cemented that demographic change and higher turnout does not equate to electoral victories for Democrats. Due to their emerging demographic status, cultural background, and significant non-voting population, Latinos exhibit some of the lowest levels of party loyalty and partisanship among all racial/ethnic groups within the American electorate. Latinos increasingly register as independents and, on average, make up their minds later and are more prone to vote switching than non-Latino voters.
Part II: Start Early With Culturally Competent Engagement and Persuasion
Make the strategic decision to engage your audience early and often.
Much of the criticisms directed at Biden were due to the fact that he began investing in Latino outreach in July whereas Trump had been consistently making overtures to Latinos since getting elected. These voter outreach efforts contributed to favorable margins for Trump in Texas and Florida and even mobilized infrequent voters to vote Republican.
For far too long, Democratic campaigns and firms lacking Latinos in strategic roles have focused on consistently engaging moderate white voters for months while leaving Latino outreach for the final 4-6 weeks leading up to an election.
This philosophy clearly does not work and potentially even hurts a candidate’s case as Latino voters don’t respond well to late approaches from candidates they don’t know anything about.
Latinos are comparatively more skeptical of politicians and electoral communications. We are typically most driven to vote for candidates that represent our interests in a more intimate manner. That can mean supporting a fellow Latino or Latina candidate or turning out for someone like Senator Rick Scott who has invested time and campaign resources over multiple cycles to connect with Latino voters and boasts a loyal following in Florida.
Early and consistent engagement of Latinos is necessary to win elections where Latinos are a crucial voting bloc.
This means running a comprehensive program that includes components for field, mail, tv, and most importantly digital. According to Nielsen, Latinos, as the youngest demographic in the US, over index significantly on smartphone ownership, social media usage (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and WhatsApp), and on the likelihood of adopting new technology products.
A successful Latino engagement program not only meets people where they are online, but does so in a consistent and encompassing way.
The traditional mobilization and persuasion models that legacy firms use need to be phased out. These models and the pollsters that use them are not accurately capturing the Latino vote and, worse, fail to provide reliable projections of likely voters.
Data is not the enemy. Data is often a misused tool that has vast potential.
We need to drop likely voter models and engage infrequent voters especially those who lie within the lower quartile of the ‘0-100’ turnout score range, consistently. Infrequent voters are not poor mobilization targets. They’re high value persuasion targets. Approaching them as such will significantly shift the perception, name ID, and favorability of a candidate with the Latino electorate over time. Short-term thinking may win you one election, but long-term thinking will net you increasingly larger margins as you work to stay in office.
Part III: Lead With Personality and Audacity
The last key to unlocking the Latino vote: give people what they want.
The Latino electorate connects with populism over liberalism and prefers personality over policy. Populism runs deep in Latin America — past and present.
On the left and on the right. We have seen populist governments hold long-term, all-encompassing power for significant periods of time throughout the 20th and 21st century in countries like Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, and Argentina to name a few. These movements are not without their detractors, but the allure of populism is deep rooted in Latino culture.
Personality and an economic populist message drove Bernie Sanders’ success with Latinos in states like Arizona, Texas, Nevada, California, Colorado, and Iowa in the 2020 Democratic primary. Yet, in the general election, Florida went red, largely powered by Latinos, by over 3% (a blowout for the Sunshine state), while overwhelmingly passing a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour with over 60% of voters supporting it. People want progressive economic policies without the attached out-of-touch liberalism associated with the mostly white intelligentsia class.
Personality is the last and most difficult component of the playbook. The appreciation for the cult of personality and the desire for strong leaders is a complex issue to unpack. One thing is certain, Latino voters respond more favorably to candidates that they deem as admirable, strong, and genuine as opposed to merely supporting the candidate who has their best economic interests and health outcomes in mind.
According to the AP VoteCast survey, 35% of Latinos voted for Trump in this year’s election, an increase from the 28% of the Latino vote that Trump received in 2016. After seeing Latinos support Trump at the highest level we’ve seen Latinos support a Republican since George W. Bush in 2004, something’s gotta give. The truth is that voting behavior does not always coincide with an individual voter’s best interests meaning that favorability can and does often outweigh policy come decision time.
The best thing a candidate can do to appeal to Latinos is be honest and authentic. Be yourself and do it unapologetically. We understand this is not for everyone, but displays of audacity, strength, and unconventionalism have never held greater political value in the modern political arena than they do now. Take risks or lose to the candidate that does.
Remember the playbook: know your audience. Engage them early and often. Be bold in expressing your personality to voters and take risks.
If more candidates use this multifaceted approach to connect with Latinos, the Democratic Party can become the party that Latinos didn’t know they needed and go on to win elections.
The Latino vote has never been more competitive. Candidates who invest in Latinos consistently and are most adaptable to change will enjoy the fruit of their labor for decades to come.