Generally, Latinos are rendered invisible by the US mainstream—and a lot of the left—media. The exceptions are the “perp walk” images featured in local TV news outlets, usually showing “suspected gang members” being taken in by the police. But let’s also not forget the persistent images in US films and television of Latinos as drug dealers/drug lords, or other types of criminals—on the few occasions we are able to crash the industry. The most recent research shows that Latinos make up about 4 percent of those represented in US films, TV, and commercials. It is a remarkable feat of magic to make the 62 million Latinos in this country invisible. Latinos are nearly 19 percent of the US population, accounting for 51.1 percent of the country’s growth, according to the 2020 US Census. By 2060, the Latino population is projected to nearly double in size to 111.2 million people, accounting for 28 percent of the US population.
The three largest US Latino population groups are Chicanos/Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans (not including those on the island), and Central Americans. These are all overwhelmingly working-class populations, and they share a tortured history with the US government: Puerto Ricans, direct US colonialism; Chicanos, US annexation of Mexico’s northern territories; and Central Americans, displacement by US-supported wars or coups in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua. Other larger Latino populations from Cuba and Latin America (Venezuelans, Argentines, Chilenos) tend to be more middle- and upper-class.
In an evil bit of irony, Mexicans did make the front pages of US newspapers and were often the lead in TV news shows in 2015—when Donald Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by characterizing Mexicans as “rapists and criminals,” and pledging to build a 2,000-mile wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent any further incursion by Mexican immigrants. Trump capped that despicable pledge by also promising to deport the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States—the overwhelming majority of whom are Latino. While the mainstream media carefully avoided the term “ethnic cleansing,” that is exactly what Trump was promising—to the hysterical cheers of his MAGA base, and the fired-up testosterone of the armed racist militias waving their guns at Mexicanos on the other side of the border.
But other than the examples I have cited, the Latino population in this country is most often out of sight and out of mind, even in the media of the US left, which mostly continues to frame US politics within a strictly “Black-white “framework.
There is, however, a new exception to the ghosting of Latinos in the broader US society. And that has to do with the growing numbers and potential power of the Latino electorate. When important elections roll around, lo and behold, we are suddenly found! Since the 2020 elections, there has been a veritable deluge of articles about Latino voters.
Misconceptions about Latino voters
These articles fall roughly into two categories. The one that has received the most attention is the notion that Latinos are essentially a conservative population, moving toward support for the Republican Party. The rationale for this assertion is that the GOP has been able to successfully appeal to the Latino values of family, church, and patriotism. This is not a new phenomenon, but one whose history extends as far back as the Nixon administration, which undertook a lukewarm effort to seduce Latino voters with these same threadbare arguments. One unspoken assumption of this argument is that there are other communities in the US that do not value family, faith, and country—a reflection of dominant thinking about African Americans within the Republican Party, and a cheap effort to divide Latinos and African Americans.
Another set of political articles argues that “there is nothing to worry about,” that Latinos continue to be strong supporters of the Democratic Party and are not going anywhere. In fact, an analysis by the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute of the 2020 elections strongly supports this assertion. Most of the articles warning about a Latino defection to the Republicans rely on exit polls for their analysis. The UCLA study, however, analyzed the record of ballots cast, thereby avoiding the errors that often emerge from the small and not necessarily representative sample provided by exit polls. Exit polls also fail to take into account the impact of early and absentee voters, or possibilities of language bias.
The UCLA study analyzed Latino voting results for the US Senate in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas. The data strongly debunks the “Latinos are going Republican” myth. It turns out that Latinos in those states voted overwhelmingly for Democratic Senate candidates, with no data indicating a decline in Democratic support for the Senate. Latino voters went 3-1 for the Democratic Senate candidates in Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia, and by a 2-1 margin in New Mexico, and Texas. What may be of interest, however, is that, except for Texas, Latino voters gave more votes to the Democratic candidates than to Joe Biden. Donald Trump received 2 to 3 percent more votes in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico than did the Democratic Senate candidates. The Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia received 10 percent more Latino votes than did Biden. Only in Texas was there no significant difference among Latinos in their votes for the Democratic Senate candidate and their votes for Joseph Biden.
Although not a component of the UCLA study, Latino voters in the important swing of state Nevada also voted overwhelmingly Democratic. And, of course, Latino voters provided a significant part of Biden’s huge electoral victory in California.
As a Colorado homeboy, I was particularly interested in how the Chicanada had voted there is 2020. There are about 323,000 Latino registered voters in Colorado, accounting for 10.4 percent of the state’s registered voters. According to the UCLA study, 315,000 cast their ballots in the 2020 election, shattering the myth that Latinos never show up at the polls. Latinos in Colorado voted for Biden and the Democratic Senate candidate, John Hickenlooper, by a 3-1 margin over the Republicans, or, put another way, 73 percent voted for Biden, and 76 percent for Hickenlooper. This demonstrates a level of voter loyalty that any serious political party would die for. By the way, less than half the white voters in my home state supported either Democratic candidate.
Let’s also look at Georgia, with its fast-growing Latino population. Most of us know that the victories in Georgia US Senate races by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were key to the Democrats’ gaining a 50-50 split in the US Senate, enabling Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes. But most people don’t realize how important the Latino vote was to those victories. An estimated 178,000 Latinos in Georgia voted in the 2020 election, representing 3.6 percent of the state’s electorate. But—and this is a major “but”—the Georgia Senate elections were decided by fewer than 12,000 votes. Latino voters voted for the Democrat senatorial candidates by a greater than 3-1 margin (75 percent and 80 percent), clearly contributing to their margin of victory; they voted 67 percent for Biden. By contrast, less than 20 percent of white voters in Georgia supported any of the three Democratic candidates.
A similar picture is advanced by the UCLA study for the other states, which demonstrates that the Latino electorate remains strongly in the Democratic column. Texas, again, presents a very interesting and somewhat different picture. There are more than 5 million eligible Latino voters in Texas, representing 28.4 percent of the state’s electorate. In the 2020 elections, nearly 3 million cast their ballots, supporting the Democratic US Senate (M.J. Hegar) and presidential candidates by a more than 2-1 margin; in other words 70 percent of Texas Latinos voted for the Hegar and Biden, compared to less than 20 percent of that state’s white voters.
The UCLA precinct-level data confirms that Latinos continue to be a reliable electorate for the Democrats. However—and this is an important “however”—Donald Trump did increase his support among Latino voters, despite his outrageous racism, the Border Wall, and his promise to deport undocumented immigrants. But the study also warns that a significant number of Latino voters are “persuadable swing voters.” Texas also continues to be a state where Latinos have been unable to counter gerrymandering—which is designed to dilute the power of the Latino vote.
Latinos Are Key to Progressive Change
The bottom line is that Latinos are highly visible at election time. But our invisibility the rest of the time hides the hideous reality of our racial and national oppression: a massive wealth gap compared to whites, poor and under-resourced schools, police and migra repression, poor housing, super-exploitation in many workplaces, over-representation in the criminal justice system, and underrepresentation in higher education, suppression of our voting rights, oppression of our language and cultures, environmental and climate racism, and the continued loss of the our little remaining farmland.
The electoral arena is one important arena for addressing these issues, and for building Latino power as a major progressive force in US politics. After all, polls continue to demonstrate strong Latino support for unions, for women’s reproductive rights, for an expansion of voting rights for all oppressed communities, for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for strong polices to address climate change, for universal medical care, expanded access to higher education, etc.
Currently, the greatest threat to Latino voting power—and to democracy in general—comes from the Republican right. Common sense and an understanding of our community’s interests should warn us to resist the siren song of the Republican Party, trying to reap the voting power we have worked so hard to grow and harvest.
But we should also call out the Democratic Party for too often taking us for granted (Are you listening Joe Biden?), for failing once again to give sufficient priority to our issues and investing far too few resources into helping build our electoral power—not only as voters but also as candidates for office at the local, state, and national level. Without such support, the Democrats will indeed face grave danger—not from millions of our voters running to the Republicans, but from our people staying home at voting time, based on the feeling that we too often remain invisible and ignored.