Latinas and the 2016 Election: Looking Ahead to Super Tuesday

Dr. Anna Sampaio participated in Presidential Gender Watch 2016’s press call, “Women Voters: It’s Complicated,” where she discussed the role, influence, and engagement of Latina voters in 2016. This post provides many of the highlights and data she shared on that call.

Much like they did in 2008 and 2012, Latinas are poised to play a significant role in this 2016 election both in terms of turnout (through both increased rates of naturalization and registration) and concentration of support for a candidate (in this case, Hillary Clinton). Latina support for Obama in 2012 was decisive to his re-election and their support is likely to be similarly significant in 2016, particularly in states where they have a critical mass and there is a competitive race. In the primaries, these states include Nevada, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, and possibly California (depending how late in the primary season the race goes).

20FIRSTDRAFT-Praeli-tmagArticleIn Nevada, the Latina/o vote was highly concentrated in the Democratic Party, according to a detailed analysis of Nevada’s caucus vote. Equally important, when the evidence from Nevada is examined carefully – including polling data from immediately before the caucus, reports from staffers on the ground, and returns from precincts with the highest concentration of Latina/o voters – the most reasonable assessment is that Clinton won the Latina/o vote with between 60-65% of their support. In other words, there is no solid evidence to suggest that Sanders won the Latina/o vote in Nevada, despite misguided efforts to read the entrance poll conducted by NEP in that fashion.   That matters as we look ahead to the Super Tuesday states of Texas and Colorado, where Clinton’s ability to capitalize on Latina/o support can solidify her path to success. In Massachusetts, where Sanders benefits from support of a neighboring state to his own, the choice among Latina/os will shape the proportion of delegates awarded to either Democrat. Two weeks later, primaries in Illinois and Florida will provide another important glimpse of the Democrat most effective in mobilizing Latina/o votes, as well as the role and choice of Latino/a Republicans.

In the general election, the competitiveness of races in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada will position Latinas to play a major, if not decisive, role in electoral outcomes. While most Latinas/os are concentrated in California, Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, the lack of competitiveness in these states, and the likelihood that either Democrats or Republicans will win the state handily, means the Latina/o vote will garner less influence and attention.

Latina/o engagement and enthusiasm is already high in the 2016 race, particularly in those states where there is a critical population of Latinas/os, where the state is competitive, and where there is an early primary or caucus. That enthusiasm has been stoked, in large part, by the centrality of immigration in this election cycle, both the resurgence of demonizing language unequivocally targeting Latinas/os coming largely from the Republican side, as well as the breadth of detailed policy reforms coming out of the Democratic candidates.Like in 2012 and 2014, immigration remains far and away the most significant policy issue to Latina/o voters.

Despite the presence of two high profile Latino candidates in the race (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), there has been no surge of Latina/o support within the Republican Party, nor an exodus from the Democrats to the GOP. The hostile and targeted language employed by Republicans, including Rubio and Cruz, explains much of this distance. Trump has repeatedly demonized Latinas/os and Latin Americans and specifically called Mexican immigrants rapists and killers. He even went so far as to champion a return to the brutal and shameful deportation policies of Eisenhower captured in “Operation Wetback,” resulting in millions of unlawful removals of Mexicans in the U.S., including lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens. Ben Carson joined the fray shortly after Trump’s initial targeting, calling for drone strikes on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Republican candidates have regularly competed with each other to ratchet-up the restrictive proposals and language including efforts to end birthright citizenship and repeated use of offensive terms “anchor-babies,” “illegal aliens,” and “criminal threats.” Even one-time reform advocate (and member of the Gang of eight coalition) Marco Rubio now says he would end DACA and that he does not support DAPA, two policies have substantially altered the landscape for immigrants and entire Latina/o families and could potentially protect millions of Latinas/os from deportation and family separation.

Fig-3-View-GOPEvidence suggests that the kinds of anti-immigrant rhetoric emerging in the debates and rallies is not only distancing Latina/o voters from the candidates (and increasing their unfavorable ratings), but is also negatively affecting their feelings toward the Republican Party overall. For example, in a November 2015 Latino Decisions poll, 80% of Latinas/os in battleground states reported that anti-immigrant statements by Donald Trump and Ben Carson resulted in a less favorable impression overall for the Republican party.Similarly another November 2015 Latino Decisions/impreMedia poll found that 46% of Latinos/as think the Republican Party is hostile towards Latinos/as, a 27-point increase in perceived GOP hostility since the same question was asked in 2013.

Democratic candidates have done better engaging Latinos/as in 2016, through substantive policy discussions, and targeted outreach and mobilization. Just look to the recent Democratic townhall in Nevada, where Clinton and Sanders discussed things like DACA and DAPA, and talked about ending the three and ten-year ban on returns, issuing driver’s licenses to non-citizens, providing in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, and the influence of private prison corporations in Congress. By May of last year, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had a comprehensive plan on immigration reform in place. She also hired a Latina/o outreach national coordinator and state coordinators within a month of declaring her candidacy, and had multiple field offices and targeted mobilization drives (such as Caucus Conmigo in Nevada) already established in battleground states. Bernie Sanders was later in engaging Latinos/as directly, but ramped up his mobilization efforts in Nevada and Colorado in recent weeks. He has also hired staff like Erika Andiola, Cesar Vargas, and Arturo Carmona to target Latinas/os in upcoming primary states.

Vargas and Andiola are both young DREAMers, seeking to build on Sanders’ strong support among the youngest generation of Democratic primary voters. Some generational differences in Latina/o support are evident, but do not appear significant enough to swing any state in Sanders’ favor. Just as Latinas/os vary in support by generation, there are notable differences by geography and ethnicity. While the Latina/o vote is largely concentrated in the Southwest and dominated by Mexican Americans, there are also large concentrations of Puerto Ricans, Domincans and Cuban voters in Florida and the Northeast.With the exception of Cubans, these voters are disproportionately Democrats; however, immigration typically doesn’t always dominate their policy landscape in the same way that it does among Mexican Americans. These differences demonstrate the complexity of Latina/o voters, who are not a monolithic bloc. As candidates campaign for Latina/o votes in upcoming primary states and in the general election, it will be essential for them to recognize and address this diversity in messaging and outreach.

Latinas have outvoted their male counterparts in every presidential election since 1984. They were also the most likely Latinas/os to support Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, with a four point gender gap in 2008 (68% Latinas and 64% Latinos voted for Obama) that grew to 11 points in 2012 (76% Latinas and 65% Latinos voted for Obama). Democratic candidates will, and should, seek to capitalize on the reliability of Latinas in election 2016, as well as the high rate of growth among eligible Latina voters in recent years. Republican candidates may seek to cut into this advantage, but research to date indicates that will require a significant shift in rhetoric and message. Super Tuesday will provide us with some early indications of Latinas’ preferences in 2016, but their influence will continue through Election Day.


3f3a3abAnna Sampaio is an associate professor of Ethnic Studies and Political Science at Santa Clara University with specialization in Latina/o politics, intersectionality, and immigration.  Her most recent publications include: “Latinas and Electoral Politics: Expanding Participation and Power in State and National Elections,”(in Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics, eds. Sue Carroll and Richard Fox, 2013, Cambridge University Press); “Racing and Gendering Immigration Politics: Analyzing Contemporary Immigration Enforcement Using Intersectional Analysis.” Politics, Groups and Identities (2014) and  “Revisiting Latina/o Gender Differences in Party Support,” (with Christina Bejarano) for Latino Decisions.