Both the Democratic and Republican parties need to undertake continuous outreach programs in Latino communities across the country to ensure that they understand key issues that will drive people to the polls in 2022 and 2024, according to political insiders.
Statistics show that nearly 17 million Latino voters participated in the November 2020 election - a 29.8% increase from the previous presidential election in 2016.
Speaking at the 38th annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) on Wednesday, NALEO Education Fund CEO Arturo Vargas said that Latinos demonstrated unprecedented levels of "motivation and enthusiasm" in 2020 - partly as a result of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Covid-19 was the number 1 priority issue for Latino voters, followed by healthcare, jobs, racism and discrimination," he said. "Latinos came out because they saw issues that really mattered to them. For many it was a life or death issue, and they were listening to what each candidate was saying about Covid-19."
According to political experts at the NALEO convention, these economic concerns also partly explain why support among Latinos for former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party was higher than previously thought.
Data from an analysis published by Democratically-aligned research firm Equis Labs, for example, "in 2020, a segment of Latino voters demonstrated more â€˜swing' than commonly assumed".
Stephanie Valencia, the co-founder and president of Equis Labs, said that the 2020 election highlighted the danger of "taking an overly simplistic view" of the Latino electorate.
"It's actually very important for us to talk about Latino voters as individuals," she said. "There were a multitude of reasons why some states did not go in favor of Joe Biden. Trump did, the GOP actively campaigned there."
In Arizona's Maricopa country, for example, raw vote totals for Trump rose 64%, compared to 38% in Milwaukee, 51% in Nevada and among Cubans in Miami-Dade. Among the non-Cuban Latino population of Miami, raw vote totals for Trump rose 120% when compared to 2016.
"The gains that Trump made in the Latino electorate cut across geography and country of origin," she said. "The real question that we have to ask ourselves is if this was an anomaly because of this moment in time."
"Democrats often presume that if they turn out a Latino voter, they'll turn out a Democrat. But they are far more persuadable [than previously believed] and there's a fundamental disconnect. The economic shutdown and the pandemic were first and foremost in people's minds. That gave people room to actually vote for Trump."
Among the other speakers at the NALEO conference was Kevin Cabrera, a senior vice president and Mercury Florida and the former Florida state director for Donald J. Trump for President and the Republican National Committee.
In his remarks, Cabrera said that the key to Republican gains among the Latino electorate was continuous engagement, even long before November.
"We focused on engagement. We did it early, and often," he said. "We realized that Latinos are not monolithic, and we didn't treat them like that."
One of the most important measures the Republican Party took - and can replicate - was opening â€˜community centers' aimed at particular communities, including Latinos.
"These weren't your typical campaign offices. We looked at them as centers we could speak truth to voters," he said. "We made sure we were in those communities."
Going forward, Cabrera said he believes these lessons - along with a focus on the economy - will ensure that the Republicans will continue to increase their level of support in Latino communities.
"Folks vote based on their wallet," he said. "I think that Republicans in 2022 and 2024 [should] follow the same playbook. If Republicans follow that and continue to speak to issues they care about, they'll continue to vote Republican."
"We are also recruiting candidates who are reflective of those communities," Cabrera added. "I think that's the key to victory."
Earlier in June, a 73-page document from the Latino Victory Fund which was leaked to the media revealed that a lack of differentiation in messaging and outreach campaigns aimed at voters of color, including Latinos, cost the Democrats support in crucial areas.
In Florida, Texas and New Mexico, for example, the report from that a drop-off in support among Latino and Hispanic was a "lynchpin" in Democratic losses in those states, particularly among working class and non-college voters.
Additionally, the report found significant "misfires" for engaging Latino and Hispanic voters as a monolith and not taking into account significant differences among various sub-groups of Latino voters.
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