Now Latinx advocates hope to elevate the conversation about their community’s voters as well, and with good reason: The Pew Research Center has projected that Latinx votes will surpass black voters as the largest group of minority voters in the 2020 election, with an estimated 32 million eligible Latinx voters.
“What I think is even almost more exciting is that the role that Latinas and young Latinas, specifically, have an opportunity to play is really, really important,” Valencia told Teen Vogue. “I think that Latinas could be the game changer in this election. We see that they are more progressive; they are more motivated to participate. We need to give them every single reason to turn out.”
Census Bureau survey data found that Latinx turnout in 2016 wasn’t that different from prior years, but Latinx turnout in the 2018 midterms was 40.4% — a 50% increase over the 2014 midterms. There are still challenges to boosting that number, though.
“We like to call Texas a nonvoting state because people, just for whatever reason, aren’t participating,” Valencia said. “Some of that has to do with voter registration laws and the process being pretty complicated to register to vote. But it also has to do with candidates, and I think that’s what Beto [O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate run] showed us…. When you have a very good, strong, aspirational, inspirational candidate at the top of the ticket, that really does matter to get people excited.”
There are barriers beyond voter registration and lackluster candidates, Valencia explained, saying young men of color’s turnout could be related to “systems of oppression that have left them feeling like they can’t trust anything.”
The combination of Latinx voters making up a larger share of the electorate and turning out in higher numbers could have a huge impact in 2020, especially in the many states where the Latinx population is rising. In 2010, census data found the Latinx population more than doubling in some states compared to 2000. Nationally, the trend lines are spiking sharply upward (though growing slower than last decade) for Latinx people both in terms of sheer population and as a percentage of the U.S. population.
Latinx people already make up big chunks of several states’ Census Bureau population estimates. A handful of states that went for Trump in 2016 have sizable shares of estimated Latinx populations: Arizona (31.6% Latinx), Florida (26.1% Latinx), and Texas (39.6% Latinx), which account for a combined 78 Electoral College votes.
“[Texas and Florida] also stand to both [add] additional congressional seats and electoral votes,” Valencia explained before warning that despite this rapid population growth, Democrats should not consider the individuals and communities that comprise these figures to be a monolith.
“The Latinx community in a place like Florida is very different than the Latinx community in a place like Texas,” she said. “Culturally, there are different nuances between the Mexican-American community who’ve probably grown up near or around the border and border issues [and] a Puerto Rican, Cuban, more South American community in Florida that has a very different experience and view in the world.”
Avoiding monolithic thinking has to extend to age, too, Torres said. She said she’s seen candidates like Sanders and Warren appeal to younger Latinx voters with their economic platforms, but she’s worried that older members of the community might be disengaged from electoral politics.
“There’s the older American Latino that has been here and has seen year after year, election after election, their concerns ignored,” Torres explained. “Now they’re saying to us, ‘Look, there’s a reason why we stay home. If you’re not going to reach out to us now in this political race against a president who has treated people of color so inhumanely, when are we going to get it?’”