July | August 2017







What can we learn from Latino voter turnout in 2016?

By Kenneth Romero, executive director
National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, a CSG Affiliate organization
The Latino vote has often been described as the “sleeping giant” of U.S. politics. Far from a monolithic group, Hispanics are positioned in key swing states that can decide elections up and down the ballot. But despite this enormous influence, Latino voter turnout historically performed well below its full potential. This year, however, the giant awoke, but it was still not the decisive force that was forecasted.
More than 27.3 million Latino voters were eligible to vote in 2016. Latino voters, as a share of the overall electorate, increased from 10 percent in 2012 to 11 percent this past election, according to the National Election Pool exit poll data. These exit polls show Secretary Hillary Clinton received the support of 65 percent of Latino voters, while 29 percent of Latinos voted for President-elect Donald Trump. This is consistent with the 27 percent of Latino votes received by Mitt Romney in 2012, but much higher than Democratic expectations for 2016.
These exit poll numbers have been the subject of much post-election debate. The reputed polling firm Latino Decisions conducted its own poll, which suggested Clinton received 78 percent of the Latino vote versus Trump’s 18 percent. To explain the discrepancy between other national polls and its own, Latino Decisions explained that other national exit polls didn’t interview voters in Spanish and questioned other methodological strategies used by other polls. We will soon learn more as additional information will be released in the weeks ahead.
What we do know is that Latinos did score major victories in increasing their political representation, particularly in Congress. Former Nevada State Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto became the first Latina to be elected to the U.S. Senate, while fellow Nevadan, state Sen. Rubén Kihuen, will become the Silver State’s first Latino in the U.S. House of Representatives. In New York, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat was elected as the first Dominican-American congressman in history, while Florida state Sen. Darren Soto, will be the first Puerto Rican in Congress from the Sunshine State. This year, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will welcome eight freshmen for a total of 31 members in the 115th Congress, the largest number in U.S. history.
State capitols also will see an increase in Latino lawmakers, with almost 40 new legislators added to the approximately 400 currently serving in state capitols throughout the U.S. Tony Vargas will be the first Latino to serve in the Nebraska Legislature, while Ryan Martínez will become a member of Oklahoma’s House of Representatives. January also will see the swearing in of Richard Ojeda as a state senator in West Virginia, where Hispanics comprise just 1 percent of the population.
Despite these important milestones, there are lessons to be learned from the 2016 election results for both political parties, as well as for the Latino community itself. Democrats spoke up about the importance of Latino voters and their concerns throughout this campaign. Yet, many Latino activists felt they were taken for granted by the Democratic party in November. Some groups such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, argued that Clinton only focused on a narrow set of swing states: Nevada, Colorado and Florida, when the reality is that Latinos comprise a 50-state voting group, as they called it. Democrats also concentrated on turning out Latinos while neglecting persuasion. The results of the Democratic Get Out the Vote efforts produced mixed results. Many Latinos in Florida, for example, turned out for Trump, while many Clinton voters at the same time supported Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s re-election.
There were also lessons to be learned among Republicans as it pertained to Latino voters. The GOP missed an opportunity to recognize the power of the Latino community as a swing voting bloc. As recently as 2004, President George W. Bush received 44 percent of the Latino vote. Republicans had an opportunity to flip this swing vote by talking directly to Latinos about issues that resonate with them, such as the importance of family values, faith and entrepreneurship. This is especially true when considering that there were two viable Hispanic Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as presidential candidates. However, the GOP never made a serious effort to court this vote. In fact, the way the campaign was carried out set back opportunities Republicans had with a large swath of Latino voters.
Latinos also have an important lesson to learn. We need to do better in exercising our civic duty to vote. Estimates show that more than 13 million Latinos turned out in 2016—significantly more than in 2012—and that number is expected to grow. However, we still fell short of turning out at least half of the 27 million eligible Latino voters. If we want our voices to be heard and our votes to be decisive—not just influential—we must do a better job of showing up at the polls.
In the end, this historic election showed that our nation is more diverse than ever before and will only continue to grow in its diversity. The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators looks forward to working with the new administration to ensure our government works for all and to help President-elect Trump achieve this important goal.