Latino millennial voters: Get ready to send a message
New apps give evidence of the importance of Latino millennial voters, and their power — not yet fully realized — at the polls
You might have heard that Latinos don’t vote. You might have heard that millennials — about 36 percent of the total voting pool — also don’t vote. And since nearly half (44 percent) of Latino voters in 2016 are millennials, the Latino millennial might be the demographic you’re least likely to meet in the polling place....
Not so fast, says Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, the nation’s leading Latino public policy and research organization.
“Latino registered voters participate at high rates in presidential general elections. On average 80 percent of Latino registered voters cast votes — this has been true for 40 years!” he told AL DÍA. “For young Latino registered voters, the average rate is 75 percent.”
Gonzalez estimates that some 15 to 16 million registered Latinos will be of age to vote in 2016, and that some 80 percent or 12 to 13 million will do so.
“Both totals will be record highs,” he said. “So during Presidential elections the real challenge ... is to register the 12-15 million unregistered eligible Latinos. But that takes grassroots organizing and funds which typically are only available in nine competitive states (Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, etc.) that contain only about 15 to 20 percent of Latino eligible and registered voters.”
That challenge, at least three organizations believe, may be met by engaging Latino millennials where they live — on their phones.
Voto Latino dropped its app, VoterPal, on March 15 at the hugely influential SXSW; in early February, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the tech media site mitú partnered to produce the Latinos Vote app; and Feet in 2 Worlds — the 10-year-old, New York City-based immigrant-centered media organization — is about to drop their own app, Voto2016, in May.
“The idea for the Voto2016 app came out of my experience with my students at The New School, where Feet in 2 Worlds is based,” said John Rudolph, the executive producer of Feet in 2 Worlds. “At the start of each semester I ask students in my journalism class where they get their news. None of them rely on the media that I grew up using. They don’t listen to the radio, they don’t watch TV and they don’t read newspapers. They get virtually all of their information online, the majority of it on their phones.”
Both millennials and Latinos are mobile-first, mobile-only, even mobile-dependent. Fifteen percent of Americans 18-29 years old depend on their smartphones for online access, according to a 2015 Pew report. Thirteen percent of Latinos and 12 percent of African Americans (compared to 4 percent of whites) rely exclusively on their mobiles for information.
“I began to think about this in the context of the 2016 election, specifically in terms of the Latino electorate,” Rudolph said. “Our mission at Feet in 2 Worlds is to tell the stories of today’s immigrants to the rest of America. Eight year ago, in 2008, we began covering presidential elections from an immigrant perspective, and naturally we came to focus on Latino voters, since Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in U.S. society, and many Latinos are closer to their immigrant roots than many other Americans.”
“This year the challenge for Feet in 2 Worlds was to find a way to build on our understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Latino voters while at the same time reflecting changes in the way that people consume news,” he said. “We know that Latinos and young people of all ethnicities trail the rest of the country when it comes to voter turnout. We know that Latinos are the fastest adopters of smart phones in the country. And we know that young Latinos represent a powerful, but largely untapped, force in electoral politics.”
Likewise, NCLR and mitú saw their app as a perfect way to create a platform for this generation of Latinos.
“With the fastest-growing vote, the youngest average voters and our issues of concern at the center of the debate, our community can see that 2016 will prove to be a watershed election,” said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of NCLR, when announcing the app’s launch. “NCLR’s job is to make sure that our voters— and as importantly the millions of potential voters in our community— have the tools necessary and the information they need to participate and make informed choices for their families and their future. Joining forces with a cutting-edge outlet like mitú is an important step in expanding both the pool of voters in November and our significance in the election’s outcomes.”
For their part, the folks at Voto Latino recognize that “the number one reason Latinos will register to vote is if you ask them,” said President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar, “We’re giving every single person, in the palm of their hand, the ability to go and register their friends and family.”
The apps all do similar things, in slightly different ways, and their differences seem to reflect the manner in which the organizations envision they’ll be used after the initial voter registration takes place.
According to Rudolph, Voto2016 — which is designed for iPhone and will have Android functionality added after the launch in May — will provide two streams of content: One will focus on how to register and vote, the other will be a feed of news about the candidates and the issues, drawn from a wide range of sources, and available in English, with some Spanish and Spanglish. “A third element will be social media tools (including custom-designed emojis), which will allow users to comment on and share information, videos, audio and articles that they find on the app.
“As far as I know, Voto2016 will be the only app aimed at young Latino voters that combines these three elements,” Rudolph said. “It’s also the only app that I know of that takes a journalistic approach to engaging young Latinos in the political process. We are partnering with news outlets and non-profit groups to provide news and information on the app, and to help market the app to Latino millennials ... Initial funding for Voto2016 came from a successful crowd source campaign we conducted last year. From the very beginning Voto2016 has been an online project.”
“VoterPal allows anyone to become an organizer and an activist and to register themselves and everyone around them to vote,” said America Ferrera, Voto Latino’s Artist Coalition co-chair, when announcing the release of the app several days ago.
This iPhone app fills in the name, address, license number, and other information by scanning a driver’s license, something Voto Latino says significantly cuts down the time it takes to fill out a voter registration form — which makes it an ideal vehicle to register people at gatherings.
“More than 40 percent of Latino millennials are mobile-only, and because of that, there is a need for technology around voter registration to catch up to the 21st century. With this app, we have the potential to create a web of civic organizers across the country,” said Kumar.
“Latino youth have the potential to make a huge impact in the 2016 elections,” Murguia said at the February launch. “But it all starts with getting registered to vote.”
This Android iOS app walks the voter through the registration process and provides information about the voting requirements of the user’s state, with the idea that then the user can print out and mail the application.
As in the Voto2016 app there are social sharing features, but Latinos Vote users also get prompts. “NCLR and mitú will stay in touch with those voters,” according to the information provided by NCLR, “assisting them in completing the process, alerting them about important deadlines and other information they need to exercise their right to vote, and engaging them in helping other eligible voters do the same.”
Pennsylvania’s online gambit
In August of 2015, Pennsylvania installed an online voter registration (OVR) system in both English and Spanish. While it doesn’t have the flash or extra engagement elements of the apps we’ve described, since Jan. 1, 85,000 eligible Pennsylvanians have used it to file new voter registrations or to update their registration information.
Some interesting patterns have emerged from those new registrations. Unsurprisingly, Democratic Party registrations are around five times of Republican Party registrations from Philadelphia County (D=15,489; R=3,288; Other=1,633). More surprising is the fact that the Democratic Party registrations also outstrip Republican ones in the four surrounding counties of Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Bucks.
In the four surrounding counties the number new registrations from young millennials is larger than the number of registrations from older millennials. This is expected since category includes those who have just become age eligible to vote. But Philadelphia County is an outlier. More 25 to 34 year olds (6,319) have newly registered in Philadelphia County via OVR than 17 to 24 year olds (4,782). Unfortunately the demographic information gathered through OVR doesn’t indicate what percentage of those are from new residents or from newly engaged residents, nor what ethnicities or races are represented.
The PA Department of State’s voter education initiative EveryoneVotesPA (which provides an online educational toolkit and lists in-person trainings across the commonwealth), as well as OVR itself are available in Spanish — certainly reflecting the 43 percent growth in the Latino community growth across the state in the past decade.
From app to applied
The cheery Latino turnout numbers that open this article are for general elections. When it comes to primary elections — like the upcoming primary April 26 (deadline to register: March 28), or the Philadelphia mayoral primary May 2015 — Latino voter turnout is often pretty dismal.
“Latinos are the least integrated major ethnicity group into the two party system,” said Gonzalez. “And primaries are basically elections for partisans. So it’s abnormal for high Latino participation in the primaries. That said, Latino participation is excited by several conditions: Hot issues; charismatic candidates; viable Latina/o candidates; competitive and or open elections; funded grassroots get-out-the-vote operations. Looking at (this) it’s clear that some of these conditions are present and explain how Latino turnout is up in some states like Iowa, Nevada, Florida, Illinois and not in others like Texas, Massachusetts, etc.”
Angelo Falcón, a political scientist, director and co-founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP), adds another motivating factor: fear.
“The role of the Latino vote in this year’s historic presidential elections is important not in and of itself but in how it contributes to a broader coalition of communities of color and progressive whites,” he told AL DÍA. “The Trump phenomenon has raised the political stakes for Latinos in ways that could result in greater Latino turnout largely due, I am sad to say, to fear rather than hope and the need for change.”
“With projections that the Latinos could make up to 12 percent of the national electorate this November, the key questions have revolved around levels of voter registration and voter turnout, which have historically been very low for Latinos,” Falcón added. “(With) recent awareness that millennials represent the largest segment of the eligible Latino electorate, a number of groups — following the lead of the Voto Latino organization — are developing youth-oriented approaches to reaching this sector of the community, such as apps. However, younger Latinos have proven to be the most difficult to mobilize electorally and whether this can be done electronically is an unknown.”
“Studies and experience have shown that there is no substitute for rolling up sleeves and going door-to-door to effectively mobilize the Latino voter,” he added. “The challenge is getting the resources and will to do this at a scale suitable to moving a population of millions. I really don’t think there is an app for that . . . yet.”
Rudolph is also a realist in terms of the Latino turn out he anticipates, but clearly believes apps have a part to play in increasing the percentage of millennials who vote.
“Despite Bernie Sanders’ early success with younger voters, engaging millennials of all ethnicities and backgrounds remains a huge challenge,” he told AL DÍA. “For Latinos there is the added sense that the political process doesn’t work for them and that most political leaders don’t speak for them. As much as they may be repelled by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, they are also deeply troubled by the record number of deportations under President Obama.”
“I’m not one to make predictions about elections, but my guess is that in 2016 Latino voter participation (including the participation of younger voters) will increase, but Latinos will continue to lag behind Blacks and Whites when it comes to casting their ballots on Election Day,” he said.
“Our hope with Voto2016 is to begin to change that historical pattern, and encourage younger Latinos to fully realize their power at the ballot box.”