Brief # 2 Democrats Missed Opportunities with Latino voters

By Linda F. Hersey

November 6, 2020

Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump addressed adequately the most significant issues facing Latinos in the United States is the blunt assessment of Kristina Sosa, a bilingual caseworker in California, about Election 2020. Sosa ticked off a list of concerns:

  • Undocumented workers lack a safe forum to express their views, and are ineligible for public assistance.
  • ICE raids are a constant and real fear for adults and their children.
  • Not enough attention is paid to the impact of Covid-19 on Latin Americans, who have been harder hit by the disease than many other ethnic groups.

Sosa, a Pacific Islander with a Hispanic background, says that her disappointment is shared by many clients she deals with in her job helping adults connect with employment. Sosa said she feels that despite their large numbers, people of Latino descent often are not heard or ignored in political and policy debates. “It’s a crisis, in my mind, affecting all of us,” she said. “People need to feel safe and have a forum to speak and express their views.”

As the Biden campaign responds to criticism that it did not work hard enough to win Latino support, Hispanic voters and advocacy groups say that public officials need to do more to cultivate the Latino vote, and address the needs of a significant, diverse and growing population in all 50 states.

There are 60 million people of Hispanic descent living in the U.S., nearly one-fifth of the population. They include Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Hondurans, Ecuadorians and Peruvians. And with the presidential race outcome much closer than predicted, some high-ranking Democrats complain that Biden could have done more groundwork to gain support from Latino constituents.

Sonia Velazquez works with Sosa at the San Francisco unemployment agency. She complained that all Latinos are not treated equally by the U.S. government. Latinos “are treated differently in terms of getting asylum and accessing government assistance that is based on their country of origin. That does not seem fair,” she said.

Unlike many other Hispanic groups, for example, Cuban Americans have a different status than other Latinos. “They don’t face the same hurdles and documentation issues,” Velazquez noted.  Cuban

Biden drew fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 among Hispanic Americans in both Florida and Texas. Biden did carry the popular vote in Miami Dade County, which has a Hispanic majority, but by just 7 percentage points. The Associated Press reported that Trump carried Florida by 51.2 percent to Biden’s 47.8 percent. Stronger Latino support could have made the difference.

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told National Public Radio that Biden’s team needed to do more outreach in Latino strongholds, to get out the vote.  “The Democrats cannot take Latinos for granted. I think Biden missed a grand opportunity to have been able to carry both Florida and Texas,” Garcia told National Public Radio.  “If he had just invested in the Latino community more, if he had delivered the correct message.”

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, was swift to criticize the under-performance. “We’ve been sounding the alarm about Dem vulnerabilities w/ Latinos for a long, long time,” she wrote on Twitter, according to Business Insider.  “There is a strategy and a path, but the necessary effort simply hasn’t been put in.”


Advocacy groups for Latinos agree that the party missed an opportunity and needs to do more — much more to cultivate support. But the path is not a straight line. The needs and interests of Latino voters is complex, as they are a diverse group from multiple countries who include new arrivals as well as people who have lived in the U.S. for generations. They identify as Republicans and Democrats. They live in communities across the U.S., with a growing presence in all 50 states.  California, Texas and Nevada have seen the most rapid increases in the Hispanic population in the last two decades, reports the Pew Research Center.

A study by Pew published in September 2020 had concluded that Hispanic support could be “a deciding factor” in the 2020 Presidential Election. And while Hispanics historically are more likely to identify as Democrats, that increasingly does not tell the whole story.


Engagement Resources

  • League of United Latin American Citizens: LULAC advances the economic, educational and political interests of the U.S. Hispanic population.
  • Mi Familia Vota is a national civic engagement organization that promotes social and economic justice for the Latino community.
  • Voto Latino is a grassroots political organization that focuses on education and empowering Latino voters.
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