(CNN) — The fight for the roughly 32 million eligible Latino voters is underway, despite the relatively scant attention this bloc has received.
With Election Day just five days away, Latino voters are expected to be important in states like Florida and Arizona. In fact, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden held events in Florida on Thursday. And Trump held two events in Arizona on Wednesday.
But don’t mistake Hispanic voters for a monolithic bloc.
According to lCNN Poll Poll, Biden has a slight advantage over Trump in both Florida and Arizona.
But in Florida, polls offer a mixed picture of Biden’s position among Latinos. Trump has a 52% advantage over 46% with the state’s Latino voters, a new poll shows NBC News / Marist, while a recent poll by Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University puts Biden at the top of the pack. Cuban voters make up a significant portion of Florida’s Latino population and tend to vote Republican.
Meanwhile, Latino voters in Arizona, a state that the Republican presidential candidate has won in every election since 1952 but one, may be able to hand Biden a victory. Latino voters in Arizona are much more likely to be from Mexico or Latin America. A big push from that bloc, which tends to favor Democrats, would complicate the quest for Trump’s re-election. A recent survey of CBS News / YouGov puts Biden’s lead among Latino voters in Arizona at 61% versus 33%.
“Whoever wins the Latino vote will win Maricopa County. And whoever wins Maricopa County will win Arizona, “he recently told The Guardian Joseph García, director of the non-profit organization Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund. And whoever wins in Arizona is likely to win the White House.
In recent days, Trump has pushed for the support of Latino voters in key states, but through characteristically vague and anemic appeals, like my colleague from CNN Maegan Vázquez described it about his “American Dream Plan” for Latino communities.
Crucially, while Latino voters are a Democratic-leaning group, that doesn’t mean the former vice president hasn’t faced challenges with this bloc. Compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden is gaining Latino voters by fewer points in pre-election polls. His campaign has also come under fire for reaching these voters later in the race.
To discuss the battle for Latino voters, what it looks like, what lessons it holds for the future, I spoke with California Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who from 1993 to 2017 was California’s House representative. During his tenure, he was a visible member of the Hispanic Legislative Group in Congress.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
There has long been a notion that Latino voters are the “sleeping giant” – a politically inert group with enormous potential. But these days the term seems too simple and time-worn, as many people are pointing out. What do you think about how we, as a society, tend to characterize, even mischaracterize, Latino voters?
Increasingly, the Latino community is becoming familiar with being an American. We are seeing more and more integration and participation in the things that we sometimes take for granted as Americans.
My parents have always voted, even though they were new voters. As an immigrant, you become a new voter after becoming a citizen. What you are finding is that the experience that your generation had to go through to understand the process is very different today, when there are programs to help people become citizens, to learn what it means to exercise their rights as citizens.
So participation is growing. Increasingly, one discovers that the Latino community, like other communities, is becoming active. And honestly, it is not being driven by very experienced people, but by young people, a trend that augurs well for the future.
Could you talk a little more about young Latino voters? It seems that an interesting change is taking place.
We are seeing that younger voters are more aware of the circumstances of voting, what voting means.
Quick example. There are hundreds of thousands of young Latinos who are «dreamers’ and cannot vote. But I guarantee you that they are active in the election campaign, and for a just reason: they cannot help themselves to vote, so they are going to reach whoever they can. They have many friends who have the right to vote. And these friends do not understand why they can vote but others do not, and they have become politically active because they see the injustice that affects their colleagues.
So it’s activism that comes from personal experience and that maybe a generation ago wasn’t that important. This activism has always been there, the whole issue of immigration. But now it’s so important because Trump, by trying to repeal the deferred deportation program (DACA) and by being so forthright in his attacks on immigrant families, has made it very personal. Activism has become very important for many, but especially for the younger generation.
And Biden? What are some of the challenges the campaign has faced with regard to Latino voters (has it received criticism for seemingly neglecting this group) and how has the campaign sought to overcome these challenges?
Remember, there were many candidates at the beginning of the Democratic primary, and it was difficult for Biden to break through. There was a time when many of the resources for Biden’s campaign were exhausted. But then suddenly, when he gained momentum and it became clear that he would be the candidate, he had to catch up, compared to the Trump campaign, in terms of resources and being able to communicate.
But what the Biden campaign has done is dramatic. It has 11 Latino voting directors across the country. It has several state directors who are Latino. He has what he calls Latino leadership tips that essentially help bring the community together to understand what is at stake.
And all of that is complemented by a platform related to the interests of the Latino community. Without question, Biden can say when he takes office as president that he has the most ambitious agenda for the Latino community of anyone who has assumed that position.
The blow that the pandemic has dealt to Latinos is amazing: more than 25,000 have died from covid-19. Latinos are not a monolith, but what are some of the top issues on the ballot for this group?
It always surprises people when I say this, but the reality is that when you survey in the Latino community, the top three topics for Latinos are likely to be the same top three topics that you see in the US in general: jobs , health care, education. The intensity may vary slightly, but is largely the same.
Americans, regardless of their origin, are more concerned about their jobs, about having the financial means to support their families. And that certainly manifests itself more intensely among Latinos because, in general, we are not a wealthy community.
What I can tell you is this: Anyone who can talk about providing for families is going to have a relationship with Latinos. Anyone who can offer security when it comes to health care is going to agree with Latinos. Anyone who believes in offering a path to a true educational opportunity will have a good relationship with Latinos.
If you take a look at the two presidential candidates, you will see that Biden’s message resonates much more than Trump’s. Because while Trump likes to say, “Things are going very well. The economy is advancing, ”he forgets that most Latinos do not work on Wall Street. In fact, he forgets that the very essential workers whom he insists go to work and have no protections are, for the most part, Latino.
Trump is so disconnected from the needs and interests of Latinos that Latinos don’t need much to see the difference between what he offers and what Biden offers. I haven’t even gotten to the damaging way Trump talks about Latinos. A lot of people can ignore that kind of conversation if they’re doing it right, but COVID-19 has shown that Trump doesn’t really care about workers, particularly Latinos.
Anything else you’d like to add, perhaps what observers should keep an eye on in the future?
I will just say that the growth in civic engagement is becoming more apparent within the Latino community. I remember being interviewed in 2015 or 2016 about how there weren’t enough Latino leaders in elected office, but political parties kept saying that Latino voters should go with them, even though the parties were not giving Latinos opportunities to be in the higher positions.
Five or 10 years ago, there weren’t too many elected officials in the entire state of California who were Latino. Today, you don’t have to look very far. You’re starting to see Latinos reaching those higher ranks.
And then growth takes a while. But once it starts, it continues. And anyone who ignores that, who doesn’t realize that this is a community that is just beginning to savor what it’s like to be involved in politics, will do so to their detriment.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.