Symposium | Can Women Save America?

Latina Voters: Why Excitement Matters

By Stephanie Valencia

Tagged LatinapoliticsvotersWomen

If you do not come from a Latino family, it’s hard to communicate the importance of Latina women in our community. They are the glue and the backbones of our families and our communities. As our matriarchs, soccer moms, or young college-aged women, we believe that Latinas are the secret weapon to the Latinx vote. Their power lies in the social networks they hold and their ability to catalyze them to influence those around them. Because of this, we believe they have the potential to be the real difference makers in 2020 and beyond. But, as we outline below, this will not just happen.

Equis Research was started in 2019 to create a better understanding of the Latinx electorate and invest in new, innovative approaches to reach and engage them. Over the last several months we’ve conducted a research project looking at the attitudes of Latino voters. We have collected nearly 30,000 interviews with Latino voters in 11 states, which has given us a deep window into the Latinx electorate in 2020. Through this research, one of our most critical findings has been the potentially critical role that Latina women can play in 2020.

While we have found that Latinas are motivated to vote, we also have come to believe that motivation, in and of itself, is not enough. We are concerned that if a Latina remains motivated, but not enthusiastic, she will herself turn out to vote but won’t take the extra step of bringing others with her. To truly tap into the power of Latina women in 2020, there will need to be a strategic investment made to communicate and engage Latinas—to build confidence and increase their enthusiasm about the process.

Increasing Latina Participation: The Opportunity
for Progressives

We know that women’s support in 2016 was complicated. More white women supported Donald Trump in 2016 than Hillary Clinton. Black women, however, were Hillary’s strongest base, with 93 percent supporting her. She had approximately 75 percent of Latinas’ support. But within just two years of the Trump presidency, we saw those numbers increase for Democrats. In the 2018 midterm elections, Black women’s turnout in 2018 surged 16 percentage points from that of previous midterm elections, from 41 percent to 57 percent—with 92 percent of Black women supporting the Democratic candidate. Among white college educated women, there was a 13 percentage point increase for Democratic candidates from 2016 to 2018. Among Hispanics, there was a 10 point gender gap in voting preference, with 73 percent of Hispanic women and 63 percent of Hispanic men backing the Democratic congressional candidates—a reflection of the election’s broad gender differences and those likely to remain in 2020.

As we head toward November 2020, Equis Research has continued to track the gender gap that has persisted among Latino voters over time. Right now, it’s larger than it’s ever been (at least since 2000). As discussed above, in 2018, the gender gap between Latino men and Latina women was at 10 points. In 2016, the gap was 7 points; in 2012, it was 6 points and in 2008 it was 3 points. If we look at where we are today, Equis Research marks the gender gap for Latinos at a high of 14 points. So if the election were held today, it would be the highest ever recorded for this community (and higher than the national average or for white men and women, which is currently at 13 points).

When we look deeper into Equis polling among rural Latina women and Latino men on the issue of the economy (pre-coronavirus) we identify a chasm of a gender gap—a stark 51 point difference in approval of Trump’s handling of the economy.

So what accounts for this gap? We might say that because Latinas identify most strongly with the community at large they are more sensitive to Trump’s attacks. They are also most affected by the economy, they are more unhappy about the state of Trump’s economy and more likely to say their personal financial situation has not improved in the current economy.

Across the board, the level of anti-Trump sentiment among Latinas runs deep. On average, across our polling since last summer, Latina women have held steady in their disapproval of Donald Trump—from Gen Z women, to our moms and our abuelitas. Disapproval of Trump’s job performance ranges from 69 to 72 points (older women and younger women respectively). Those low job approval ratings are further confirmed when you look at Latina support (all ages) in the general election. On average, Latinas will support an unnamed generic Demcratic candidate ranging from 70 to 72 points over Trump. When you look at women with children (compared to fathers), we see that, in fact, moms are more anti-Trump (yet less motivated to vote) than men with children.

Latinos broadly, and Latinas especially, are the rare demographics among which non-voters are more progressive than actual voters.

When we look through the lens of religion, there are other surprising findings that challenge conventional wisdom. Latinos have often been painted as being more socially conservative, especially on the issue of choice. What Equis polling uncovered, however, is that across all states polled, a majority of Latinos support women’s right to choose (62 percent), including ensuring access to an abortion—and by fairly wide margins. Those numbers are consistent for Latinas in particular as well.

We also discover that Latinas, Latina Catholics, and especially Latina churchgoing women cite the issue of Donald Trump’s morality as a major concern for them. Similarly, his handling of the issue of immigration (namely kids in cages and the border wall).

Overall, we can take away the following from the data we have gathered to date, measured alongside past trends: Latinas are deeply anti-Trump, especially because of his lack of morality and handling of immigration (an issue that is very personal to them); and they seem to support progressive issues like abortion in ways that may have been previously underestimated. And here is why this should matter to progressives: First, Latinos broadly, and Latinas especially, are the rare demographic among which non-voters are more progressive than actual voters. Second, there is a greater share of non-voting Latinos than likely voters in all of the most critical battleground states. And third, Latinas have the numbers. They make up the largest age and gender cohorts in most key battleground states. But this won’t come without some challenges, especially around turnout, that must be overcome.

Overcoming Turnout Challenges Among Latina Women

While we see huge opportunities for Latinas, given their high levels of support for a progressive policy agenda, there are reasons for concern given historic trends in turnout, where there is a lot of room for growth. When we look at Latina turnout, it has been trending in the right direction but remains lower than that of Black and white women, presenting an opportunity for new votes. The question becomes why.

The Topos Partnership, a non-partisan research initiative, has done important research digging into the drivers behind lower Latino voter turnout and what they have discovered held further surprises. Lower turnout is not necessarily driven by apathy; in fact, quite the opposite. First of all, Latino voters don’t necessarily feel prepared or confident enough to vote. Simply put: They don’t want to mess up. Secondly, Topos found that Latino voters are concerned their vote won’t actually matter.

So increasing turnout among Latina voters will depend on developing strategies that address these barriers to voting. Among many of Topo’s recommendations, they found that “building more confidence to vote doesn’t necessarily mean providing more information, but rather can be built by shifting the expectation from knowing enough to caring enough.” And shifting confidence also means creating the notion that the voter is already well prepared to make good decisions about voting—and especially tying that to what people are voting for (their children, their community, etc.).

To know how much work we need to do on this front, in our polling we have started to track a split-sample question on voting enthusiasm. We ask half of respondents how “motivated” they are to vote in the 2020 elections, and the other half how “excited” they are to vote. Consistently, we see high numbers on both “very motivated” and “very excited,” but a large gulf between the two, with voters far more motivated than excited.

This is why excitement matters: While Latinas are at the vanguard of progressive policy change, they are not as motivated and excited as Latino men. Latinas feel motivated to vote. But we’re concerned that if they remain unenthusiastic, they will turn out to vote but won’t put in the work to mobilize and persuade those around them, as previously mentioned. When Latinas are activated, and are willing to tap into their social networks, that’s where the real pay-off comes in. This “voting contagion,” we believe, is the secret ingredient Latinas can bring in 2020 and it’s why we should continue to track their levels of excitement.

One last challenge for Latina turnout is how they view discrimination. Discrimination cuts both ways and could have some unintended consequences. Our polling shows that Latinos blame Trump for an increase in discrimination against Hispanics, and it appears to be a motivating factor for those with a very strong sense of their Latino identity (largely Latina women). But research also finds that when more assimilated Latinos perceive greater discrimination against them, it doesn’t result in greater voting—it actually leads to a lack of trust and lower likelihood of voting. Below is an anecdote from a focus group in Wisconsin that highlights the personal impact that Latinas are experiencing. This illustrates why we might be seeing low excitement. We need to give these voters back some hope.

What To Do From Here: Create a Cultural Phenomenon That Latinas are the Difference Makers

To conclude, what research has also shown is that the threat or fear of another four years of Donald Trump is not enough either. To increase participation, studies have shown that you should pair a “threat message” with an “opportunity message” that emphasizes what we can achieve if we vote. A message combining threat and opportunity has a significant mobilizing effect—and women are especially receptive to it.

Bernard Fraga’s research on the Turnout Gap has found that “when a group is perceived to drive election outcomes, members of that group are more likely to turn out to vote—both in that individuals are more likely to vote when they expect to be able to influence the political process, and in that candidates and parties are more likely to court them if they view them as decisive.”

As our research has shown, there is incredible power to be found in the Latina electorate, if we can convince them that they hold the keys to the future of this country. This is a moment in time where we need to create a self-fulfilling prophecy among Latina women: They can and will be the difference makers in this election.

In other words: If we want Latinas to be decisive, we need to say—out loud and with great frequency—that Latinas are going to be decisive. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but only if we make it one.

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Stephanie Valencia is the co-founder of EquisLabs, an organization that works to create a more active and powerful Latinx electorate. She is the former deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement under the Obama Administration.

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