Key Issues for a Highly Coveted Demographic this Election: The Latino Community

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden recently made a comment about Latinos, in which he stated Latino voters are “an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things.” Out of the many countries that constitute Latin America, 8 nationalities have the highest populations inside the U.S.: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Dominican, Guatemalan, Colombian and Honduran.

Sixty million Latinos currently live in the United States but only 32 million are eligible to vote. Latinos have become the largest ethnic minority. According to Pew Research Center Latinos constitute 13.3% of all eligible voters, with 62% of Latino voters leaning Democrat (while 34% lean Republican) and 68% disapproving of President Donald Trump. As per the 2018 census, the number of states with a population of 1 million or more Hispanic residents in 2018 are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Texas. Out of these states, Florida, Arizona, and Georgia are projected to be 3 of the 8 states that will determine the election, as per a report by Politico.

The latest research shows that Mexicans account for more than two-in-three Hispanics in the Los Angeles and Houston metro areas, while in Floridian cities like Orlando, Puerto Ricans are in the majority. Cubans are the largest group in the Miami metro area. This brings special focus to Florida, since there are different factors that can tip the Latino vote one way or another.

Economy, Healthcare, Covid-19 response, and Climate Change

Data from Pew Research Center’s latest survey shows that, in comparison to U.S. non-Hispanic voters, the major issues that Latino voters are concerned with include the economy, healthcare, the coronavirus pandemic, racial and ethnic inequality, violent crime, Supreme Court appointments, climate change, immigration, and foreign policy by almost 10 points, with climate change being the most significant disparity by almost 18 points. Other issues such as gun policy and abortion resulted in marginal differences with that of the total U.S. electorate.

Several studies show that black and brown people have a greater propensity to fall victim to Covid-19, which has been linked to the higher number of essential workers who come from African American or Latino communities, as well as the lower standards of living that they face in many cases, and poorer access to healthcare. This goes hand-in-hand with economic and ethnic inequality, especially for Black and Latin women. When it comes to pay equality, Latinas are paid only 54 cents for every dollar a White non-Hispanic male earns, while African American women make 63 cents, as per census data.

A report released in 2017 by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Voces Verdes states that “more than 60% of U.S. Hispanics live in states that experience the highest amounts of extreme heat, air pollution, flooding, and other climate-related threats.” The study also shows Hispanic children have similar asthma diagnosis rates as White children, but they are more likely to die from it. Crop and livestock production workers, who are overwhelmingly Latino, are also highly susceptible to heat-related deaths on the job, according to a 2015 study by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The “Nuestro Futuro: Climate Change and U.S. Latinos” report also notes that Hispanics have the lowest rate of health insurance, compared to other ethnic groups; and nearly 11.2 million illegal immigrants are not eligible for disaster aid.

Remarkably, a 2014 survey showed that 70% of Latinos support carbon pollution limits and favor congressional representatives who support such limits.

The response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

The U.S. has been affected by plenty of hurricanes during Donald Trump’s presidency, especially in 2017 which had an unprecedented hurricane season. Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4, Irma hit Puerto Rico and nearby islands as a Category 5, only to be followed by Maria which became an also deadly Category 4. Puerto Rico, a small Caribbean island, stood no chance in the path of these dangerous storms. In contrast to the response to Harvey in mainland Texas, the real problems for the boricua people came not during the torrential rain and the strong winds, but after, when the recovery assistance and efforts fell short in the unincorporated U.S. territory. The death toll began adding up after the island went months without electricity, potable water, and access to other essential necessities, climbing up to nearly 3,000 victims. This was mainly due to the delayed financial aid response, according to several studies, including one from George Washington University and another from Harvard. The Trump presidency claimed that the late arrival of federal aid was due to geographic limitations, and blamed it on the democratic mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, accusing her of incompetence via Twitter.

Boricua voters see a bigger picture, nonetheless. According to a study by Equis Research, voters credit President Trump for withholding the funds over corruption in the island, since they acknowledge the responsibility of local politicians, but they are as likely to blame the president for slowing the funds. At the same time, 73% of Florida boricuas give President Trump a failing grade on his handling of issues related to Puerto Rico.

However, a team at the University of Michigan pointed out that elected officials who demanded the most for Puerto Rico were known for their bipartisanship and represented large Puerto Rican populations. The team believed the true reason for the delay in funds was due to slow congressional negotiations, which could have been prevented if the territory had proper representation in both houses. 

While Puerto Ricans are not able to vote from the island, despite being U.S. citizens, those who have migrated to other states can do so. Ana Navarro, a CNN republican commentator and Miami resident who fled Nicaragua and came to the United States when she was a child, held an Instagram live transmission with Eva Longoria a few weeks ago, in which they discussed the importance of this issue for boricuas, who compromise a significant portion of Florida’s population. The two Latinas gave heartfelt encouragement both in English and Spanish to Puerto Ricans and Latinos in general to go vote this November.

The Puerto Rican Governor’s endorsement of President Trump is the latest significant development which has the potential to sway voters. Governor Wanda Vázquez made the announcement during an interview with Telemundo, and also called for Puerto Ricans to go vote. This comes despite Trump’s opposition to giving statehood to the island, something that Vazquez supports herself. When asked to comment about his visit during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in which he tossed paper towel rolls to the locals, she defended him by saying, “No one is perfect.”

Also an outsider to politics, Wanda Vázquez was an attorney who served as Secretary of Justice while former Gov. Ricardo Roselló was still in charge. The substitution came after millions of Puerto Ricans marched demanding his resignation. But many of the same protesters have issues with Vázquez. She faces strong opposition from several women’s rights activists after making steep budget cuts to groups that provide services to physically abused women, and ignoring calls to declare a national emergency in response to an increase in domestic violence after the hurricane. 

In addition, a lawsuit was filed recently against the Puerto Rican government, aimed at Vazquez as governor and Eric Delgado in his capacity as President of Puerto Rico Corporation for Public Broadcasting (WIPR), which is taxpayer funded. The plaintiff contends that during weekly government-run shows intended to provide information about the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Vázquez, the coordinator of the pandemic medical advisory team, and other government officials made religious allusions, violating the constitutional provision for separation of State and Church in multiple instances. The Puerto Rico Journalists Association has also complained of being barred from these weekly broadcasts, which had originally included journalists from various outlets but then were limited to only allow WIPR-affiliated correspondents.

Cuban conservatism and trauma from a communist past

While Cubans are a minority within the Hispanic community in terms of total population, they have decent representation, with 3 senate and 4 congressional seats. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are more notorious due to their presidential aspirations in 2016, during which their criticism toward Donald Trump was rampant, but diminished after he won the GOP nomination. Despite Trump having accused Ted Cruz’s father of being linked to the assassination of President Kennedy, and having had exchanges with Marco Rubio on the debate stage regarding the size of their manhood, they are now both strong Trump supporters aligning with party lines.

Cuban immigration into the U.S. exploded when Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Thanks to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuban exiles are provided immediate naturalization regardless of quotas and visa procedures. This is a big contrast with most Hispanic immigrants who often face lengthy processes and high fees when choosing to remain legally in America.

Cubans are politically active and lean conservative. While non-Cuban Latinos showed strong support for Barack Obama in 2012, the Cuban vote was split. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Cubans tend to be – on average – older, richer, more educated, and more concentrated in specific areas of the country (Miami Dade being a clear example). In addition, over half of Cubans were born outside of the U.S.

A paper published in Social Science Quarterly (Girard, Chris. showed that among Cuban Americans in South Florida, measures of exile politics correlate with much of the variation in Republican registration by race and age, and, in terms of party preference, partly explains the differences between Cubans and non-Cubans. However, the same study conducted by Equis Research shows that the trend for younger Cubans appears to be changing. A new generation under the age of 45 may have significant influence in the election. More than 50% of Cuban Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 disapprove of President Trump’s performance in the White House. As the Miami Herald highlights in an op-ed from January this year, this finding is statistically significant given the media portrayal of Cubans as Republican. The data paints an interesting picture of how the Cuban vote might tip the Floridian balance on November 3rd.

Perspective from a U.S. born Latino in Florida

I have spoken to a South Floridian voter who shared with us some of his thoughts and worries regarding the upcoming election. He has chosen to remain anonymous.

Q: What’s your party affiliation?

A: When I first registered to vote in 2005, I registered as a GOP. Beginning 2017 I switched to IND; now I am a registered DEM able to vote in the primaries (Florida is a closed primary state).

Q: What is your biggest concern about this election?

A: I’m most concerned if Trump loses, the peaceful transition of power. He has made several claims of not accepting the results. We have had so many unprecedented events in the last 4 years…will this be another?

Q: How has the pandemic impacted your personal life?

 A: We had our first child December 24th, 2019 and since [he] was a newborn in the beginning of the pandemic, we have had to take over and above caution to keep him safe. His pediatrician recommended avoiding daycare if possible, so we have had to balance both our work schedules around his care. My step-father is a retired fire chief and has been battling lung cancer. Since he is extremely high risk, we haven’t seen him, but once since our child was born and got rapid tested before being around him. In Florida it definitely feels like we are not in this together. There is no state mask mandate, so it falls on the counties and cities to require within their jurisdictions. Everyone is on completely different pages and that is very frustrating worrying about the health and safety of my family.

Q: As a South Floridian, how important is climate change to you?

A: Climate change is extremely important to me. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale diving the Keys every weekend as a teenager. I have seen the seabed and corals drastically differ from when I was a child. I also remember as a child, having to wear a jacket over my homemade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Halloween costume, because it was too cold. Now it’s 95 on Christmas.

Q: Have you been approached by either party’s campaigning?

A: I have been approached by “Women for Trump” at my house. The volunteer knocked on my house door mid-September.

Q: How was your experience with them?

A: My experience was mixed. First interactions with the volunteer were very pleasant but as the conversation led to more detailed policies, her demeanor went to frustrated. She explained that her dislike of Biden stemmed from her difficulties during the Great Recession. She said “I almost lost my house and business in 2006 because of Biden and Obama.” I stated that Obama didn’t take office until 2009 and she replied they still messed up her life. As we concluded our conversation, she explained the reason she came to my house was because I was a registered DEM and needed to ask me 2 questions. First, would I be voting for President Trump. Second, how would I be voting; mail or in person early or on Election Day.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle to voting in Florida in your opinion?

A:  INFORMATION. Like I said earlier, every county has different rules, different time frames, and different guidelines to voting. There is a lot of disinformation on when or how someone can vote. I have had to call my County Election Office several times to confirm.

In 2020 the Latino community has the power to determine the outcome of the presidential election. It is now up to all representatives interested in their vote to listen to the needs and concerns of this long-ignored ethnic minority.

Giselle P. Dussel is a Latina writer with a degree in International Business. She is now a contributing writer for Big Easy Magazine,
a climate activist, and a stay-at-home mother.


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