Democracy Alliance Blog / October 12, 2016

To Engage Latinos, We Need to Talk to Them as People, Not Just Voters

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, we who support Latino issues should recommit ourselves to ensuring a society that respects Latino families, culture, voices, and opinions throughout the year – not simply during election cycles.

In the world of 50-plus-one politics, it is easy to view Latinos as tools to help candidates get elected. And in the progressive world of limited resources, it is even easier to divert resources away from Latino work in this particular election. After all, Donald Trump has done a masterful job of alienating Latinos.

In a recent Latino Decisions poll commissioned by the NALEO Educational Fund, Secretary Clinton easily leads Donald Trump 56% to 12% of Latino respondents who are certain of their pick for president.

At first glance these might seem like promising statistics – until one stops to wonder how 12% of Latinos could possibly vote for Trump. Even more alarming is that an additional 30% could still change their minds before the election, even after all the negative rhetoric about Latinos from the Republican nominee.

Digging into this poll a little further reveals even more interesting data. Of respondents who were asked about congressional races, just over half said they were certain to vote for the Democrat versus 20% who said they would vote for the Republican.

That still leaves 35% who are still unsure. In this polarized political environment where the leader of the Republican Party is calling Mexicans criminals and rapists, 20% are going to vote Republican and 35% are still unsure about their congressional pick.

We have to stop and ask ourselves, are we really building a progressive community that serves everyone in it?

The Latino Engagement Fund (LEF) and Latino Engagement Action Fund (LEAF) are expressly dedicated to countering this concerning trend of Latino disengagement. We view Latinos not as a constituency to be mobilized in election years, but as a critical part of what should be our nation’s progressive governing class.

Our approach to winning entails talking with Latinos as people, rather than voters. We support organizations that listen to Latino voices, work for pro-Latino policy changes, and embrace Latino leaders – and not just in election years. As it turns out, this is also the approach needed to make sure Latinos show up to vote and to ensure that this engagement is sustained from election to election.

The LEF and LEAF are supporting groups on the ground that have spent years building relationships with the Latino community in their areas – the very people who we need to show up in November. These groups include Mi Familia Vota, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Action, El Pueblo, and One Arizona, among others.

Despite the disturbing rhetoric of the Trump campaign, investment in the LEF and LEAF is down from previous years. There are still budget gaps for Latino civic engagement work in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Arizona. Political campaign investment in Spanish-language television is also down. And, national Latino organizations have taken to the media to share their frustrations with the investment in their efforts this fall.

It is not too late for funds to be put to use this cycle. Our partners in Florida need resources for a Latino and immigrant direct mail program and targeted digital outreach to motivate voters to the polls. In Nevada, our partners need additional resources for a paid phone program and additional direct mail to make sure more Latinos show up in November. In Colorado and Florida, advocates are fundraising to implement a direct action program holding candidates accountable and pushing a media narrative about the power of DREAMers in this election. And, groups in Virginia and Arizona have unfunded GOTV, phone, and mail programs.

We are also actively fundraising for the important work that will begin November 9th. Moving forward, the LEF and LEAF will connect short-term civic engagement goals with long-term progressive policy change and the development of progressive Latino leaders in our target states. We will also connect the LEF and LEAF to the other Democracy Alliance funds to achieve economies of scale and alignment of investments in target states.

With your help, the LEF and LEAF can help progressives win while building an equitable future for Latino communities. Indeed, if we are to honor the ideals that we espouse during Hispanic Heritage Month, we can and must do both.

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