[OP-ED]: The perils of assuming anything about the Latino vote
At the outset of their new book, “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes note that adviser David Plouffe prioritized three goals for Clinton to win: “It was important to have the right culture and mission, to manage Bill Clinton, and to effectively target Latino voters.”
We know how well that turned out.
Later in the book, which is a stunning indictment of the poor leadership, judgment and instincts that led to Clinton’s loss, Allen and Parnes detail how Clinton tried but struggled to make inroads with Latino voters, as well as African-American ones, even though they were key constituencies.
The Clinton campaign ignored pleas to court Latino voters in Nevada -- heavy-hitting surrogates like former New Mexico governor and first Hispanic presidential candidate Bill Richardson were disregarded. And the campaign left Emmy Ruiz, Clinton’s Nevada point-person, without enough resources to compete in the predominantly Latino state, according to Allen and Parnes.
Not detailed in “Shattered” but worth mentioning: The Clinton campaign once unsuccessfully attempted to appeal to Spanish speakers by using Spanglish and implying she was just like your grandmother. This spurred an immediate social-media backlash because, let’s face it, unless your grandma is a multimillionaire, Clinton is nothing like your (BEG ITAL)abuela(END ITAL).
And, less than a month from Election Day, those Hispanics who had not decamped to supporting Bernie Sanders or who were secretly rooting for Donald Trump learned from a WikiLeaks email dump what Clinton’s campaign thought of Hispanics: They were needy and easy to appease with just a few phone calls.
“Richardson is still on TV a lot, especially on Univision and Telemundo and, notwithstanding the fact that he can be a [expletive], it was worth getting him in a good place,” read one email included in the October 2016 WikiLeaks revelations.
These vignettes, in addition to Clinton’s ham-handedness with African-American voters and myriad other missteps, led Allen and Parnes to this conclusion: “White voters punished her for running a campaign so focused on minority voters. ... The more she catered to them, the more she pushed away other segments of the electorate.”
So let’s recap: Clinton took Latinos for granted, Trump demonized them in order to get votes from the white, working-class voters Clinton turned off with her outreach to minorities, and Gary Johnson and Jill Stein barely had the resources to reach critical masses of any kind of voters, much less Hispanic ones.
Is it any wonder, then, that, despite all the hoopla about the “sleeping giant” finally waking up, national Latino voter turnout was even lower in 2016 than in 2012?
According to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, the high-water mark was in 1992 when 51.6 percent of the Latino electorate came out to vote. More recently, 49.9 percent helped Barack Obama win in 2008, 48 percent turned out in 2012 and just 47.6 percent voted last November.
It must be noted that the Hispanic share of voters has gone up every year since 1980, culminating with 9.2 percent of all voters in 2016, meaning that there were more total Hispanic voters who cast ballots, even though fewer eligible Latino voters as a whole turned out.
In the run-up to the election, what I heard from Latino advocacy organizations across the country was that campaign outreach from both parties was paltry and that investments from national get-out-the-vote organizations were not made in Hispanic communities until the last minute.
At this point, one might intuit a classic chicken-or-egg conundrum: Political parties may not invest in Latino voters because they think Hispanics won’t vote anyway, and Hispanics may not be interested in voting because candidates assume their vote is either a foregone conclusion or a lost cause.
Each of those assumptions would be a big mistake because the Latino vote has always been and will always be up for grabs.
Even Trump garnered eye-popping amounts of Hispanic votes (28 percent of Latinos, similar to Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center), despite the real-estate mogul’s degrading anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
You don’t need to be a political scientist to figure out a few simple truths: In raw numbers, more and more Hispanics will cast ballots in upcoming elections -- as has been the case for the past 36 years.
And whoever wants to win their votes in 2020 will be rewarded if they start making investments in Latino voter education and outreach right now.