Home / Dallas News / Study says many Latinos don’t vote because they aren’t sought, and they aren’t sought because they don’t vote

Study says many Latinos don’t vote because they aren’t sought, and they aren’t sought because they don’t vote

A study that seeks to explain why citizens in the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group often don’t go to the polls says that sporadic outreach by campaigns leads many Latinos to feel disenfranchised, and that because they do not vote, candidates and political parties don’t focus on them.

The study, released Thursday, concludes that Latino voters in Texas are neither apathetic nor monolithic, and certainly not a “sleeping giant” on the verge of waking up. Rather, it says, the political system has failed them.

“They’re not sleeping, as the metaphor says, it’s that they haven’t been empowered,” said Cecilia Balli, lead researcher of the study and founder of Culture Concepts, a private research consultancy. “They haven’t been activated or empowered, and they haven’t developed strong habits of voting.”

In the November election, Latinos will have the second-largest share of eligible voters nationally. They make up an estimated 30% of the Texas electorate, with about 5.6 million people eligible to vote.

But historically, in comparison with other groups, Latino voter turnout continues to lag. In the 2018 midterm election, about 11.7 million of the 29 million eligible Latino voters turned out, according to the Pew Research Center.

The nonprofit Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a progressive group known for its work against mass incarceration, in collaboration with Culture Concepts, conducted in-depth interviews with 104 eligible Latino voters, half men and half women, over an 18-month period to explore Latino voting patterns. Of those in the study who answered a question about party affiliation, 43 identified as Democrat, 21 as Republican and 39 as independent.

The study found that eligible Latino voters are in a vicious cycle: Sporadic outreach by campaigns leads many Latinos to feel disenfranchised. Traditionally, candidates and political parties focus on voters who have turned out in the past, so new voters or those who haven’t cast a ballot in recent elections do not get actively sought through phone calls or door-knocking, a situation that has become more challenging during the pandemic.

That has left Latinos, who are poised to become a decisive voting bloc in Texas, lacking a sense of belonging or political empowerment, factors that hamper their turnout, keeping them from becoming a significant political force, says the study, titled “Real Talk: Understanding Texas Latino Voters Through Meaningful Conversation.”

Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa agrees with most of the survey’s conclusions.

“You have to create a culture of voting,” Hinojosa said. “You have to engage voters not just before an election but you have to do it continuously in order to create that culture of voting.”

Allen West, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said that he’s fighting for Hispanic voters and has been “humbled” by their response to his outreach.

“I have had the pleasure of being with Hispanic pastors in Laredo who realize that their principles and values do not align with the Democratic Party,” he said. “The results are speaking for themselves with the massive Trump train events we are seeing in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.”

Democrats are hoping to appeal to enough Hispanic voters to propel former Vice President Joe Biden into the White House, and perhaps seize the Texas House from Republicans for the first time since 2001. For their part, Republicans are trying to blunt Democrats’ momentum by winning a solid share of the Hispanic vote, and various polls show Trump is doing better with Hispanics than GOP nominee Mitt Romney did in 2012.

But historically, getting a surge of Hispanic voters to the polls has proved difficult.

Former state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican who is president of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, said the Latino vote is up for grabs for both political parties if turnout can be increased.

“There’s not likely a silver bullet,” he said. “The surest way to do that is to engage the community in a meaningful way at the community level. Sending an 8-by-5 mail card is Spanish isn’t going to do it.”

The study, released less than six weeks before U.S. elections in which Latinos have much at stake because they’re hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic and an economic downturn, concluded that three key factors drive voter engagement and participation: civic empowerment and belonging; voting habits and immersion in voting communities; and responsive government.

Of the 104 people interviewed, 47 said they were regular voters, 33 said they were occasional voters and 24 said they were nonvoters. Generally, the more educated they were, and the higher their income, the more active and empowered they had become.

Two North Texas participants in the study are Luisa F. Hernandez, 25, in Coppell and Daniel Gonzalez, 25, in Dallas. They were interviewed by The Dallas Morning News. Both are immigrants from Mexico, but their history of participation is based largely on income and past political habits, or the lack of them.

Luisa F. Hernandez, 25, with the Biden/Harris sign outside her home in Coppell.
Luisa F. Hernandez, 25, with the Biden/Harris sign outside her home in Coppell.(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

Gonzalez said he grew up with no “sense of participation. I just didn’t think it was as important as working, paying my bills and stuff like that.”

Four years ago, following the election of President Donald Trump, his parents, both permanent U.S. residents, a status that makes them ineligible to vote, urged him and his three siblings to register and vote.

“They realized that elections have consequences,” said Gonzalez, a 2019 graduate of the University of North Texas. “And those consequences will impact our lives for so many years.”

Gonzalez participated in his first election during the 2018 midterms, giving him “a feeling that I belong here. That this is important.” He said he’s now trying to instill the same sense of urgency in friends and family.

“But we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I tell them the very reason we came, this American dream, is what will be decided in November.”

He said he worries about what will happen to the fabric of the United States following Nov. 3. “I just hope we remain the United States of America,” he said, stressing the word “United.”

Hernandez, meanwhile, grew up with politically active parents from their days in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso. She moved to Dallas with her parents at age 8. Her father owns a construction company.

Hernandez is a 2018 graduate of New York University with three degrees: in linguistics, Spanish and computer science. She works as a business administrator at her dad’s office and lives with her parents and her three brothers, triplets, in “a quiet, affluent neighborhood in Coppell.”

“We’re the ones with the Biden-Harris yard sign,” she said, noting that she lives in a sea of Republican red.

She spends evenings and weekends registering people in parking lots of grocery and other stores where Latinos congregate, talking with shoppers individually, explaining what’s at stake. She calls friends throughout the region, including in El Paso, where she has family and friends. Many, she said, have no clue. Others, she said, say they will vote Republican because “Trump sent them a stimulus check or because they’re Catholic and are against abortion.”

What’s clear, she said, is that “we have to get accurate information out to people because we — they — are the future.”

“This is a long-term game, one by one, year to year,” she said. “People over time are becoming more active, more engaged.”

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