On September 8, 2020 Latino Decisions and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund launched the 2020 ten-week tracking poll of the Latino electorate. Every week leading up to the presidential election we will survey 400 registered Latinos, gaining crucial insight on the nation’s largest group of non-white eligible voters.
Over the last week, Latinos have been thrust into the limelight as a result of limited polling in Florida. Given the complexity of the Latino electorate, we were surprised to see the hyper focus on Latino enthusiasm, or reported lack thereof, for presidential candidate Joe Biden. The media’s obsession with enthusiasm seems to be a carry-over from 2016, when it was concluded that the decline in Black voter turnout was due to a lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. With Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket, the focus has now turned to Latino voters and their feelings toward the Biden-Harris campaign. Reports of low levels of enthusiasm among Latinos are sounding alarms that the Democrats have a Latino problem.
It’s time to stop distracting ourselves with the notion that lack of enthusiasm is the top story for Latinos and the 2020 election. Instead, we must return to the fundamentals, what we know to be true. Biden has a clear advantage over Trump when it comes to three key indicators for Latino voter turnout: the economy, critical issues, and mobilization.
Let’s pause for a moment and analyze the factors that drive Latinos to the polls. Hint: it’s not enthusiasm. So, what really motivates Latinos to vote? Research tells us that key predictors include economic considerations, issues important to Latinos, voter mobilization, and access to the polls. Armed with this information, week two of our 2020 tracking poll paints a different picture for the presidential campaigns.
-The Economy: Biden has a 25-point lead over Trump when it comes to Latinos trusting a candidate to improve the economy.
-Critical Issues: Biden leads Trump by as much as 47% when it comes to trusting a candidate to improve issues critical to Latinos, such as immigration reform (40%), access to affordable healthcare (46%), and protecting the environment (47%).
-Mobilization: The Democratic Party is leading the effort to mobilize Latino voters with almost twice as many Latinos having been contacted by the Democratic Party (65%) than by the Republican Party (34%).
-Access to the Polls: More than half of our respondents reported that they prefer to vote by mail (58%). Alarmingly, almost a third (29%) indicated that they are not familiar with vote by mail process in their state.
Heading into the 2020 presidential election, the biggest challenge Democrats need to overcome when it comes to Latino voters is not Donald Trump or Biden’s persona; it is access to the ballot box. The manner by which citizens cast their vote on Election Day varies considerably across states. Let’s start with how voters request mail-in ballots. Some states, including the battleground state of Texas, require an excuse in order to obtain an absentee ballot. Other states, including the swing state of Nevada, are automatically sending mail-in ballots to voters. Once a voter has the mail-in ballot, what do they do with their form? Voters in a handful of states will have their ballot thrown out if they haven’t had their signature properly notarized or witnessed, while voters in other states can simply turn in a signed ballot. When should voters send in their mail-in ballots? Once again, the answer is not straightforward because there is no universal deadline for submission of mail-in ballots, with many states requiring that mail-in ballots be received as late as Election Day. These differences and the lack of voter education at this point in the election could prevent many Latinos from casting their ballot or cause their vote to be thrown out on a technicality.
It’s time to stop distracting ourselves with the notion that lack of enthusiasm is the top story for Latinos and the 2020 election. Instead, we must return to the fundamentals, what we know to be true. Biden has a clear advantage over Trump when it comes to three key indicators for Latino voter turnout: the economy, critical issues, and mobilization. The final key to the Latino vote, access to the polls, should now be at the top of Biden’s campaign strategy. Earlier this week, the Democratic Party announced an effort to streamline mail balloting. With almost a third of Latinos reporting that they are not familiar with the mail ballot process and Election Day less than 50 days way, the question is: will these efforts be sufficient?
Adrian D. Pantoja is associate dean of faculty and professor of politics at Pitzer College, and Senior Analyst with Latino Decisions.
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