Latinx within the United States Political Landscape

By Katie Lloyd

"For the future of our children, and to achieve a world where true peace exists, vote for the Democratic Party on November 8. Long Live Kennedy!" Those were the concluding words of Jacqueline Kennedy in a television commercial for her husband’s presidential campaign in 1960. There was something distinctive about this advertisement though, Mrs. Kennedy spoke those words in Spanish (JFK Library, 2010 & JFK Library, 2020). She used her knowledge of the language to appeal to the growing population of Spanish-speaking voters, an occasion that had not been done before (Gonyea, 2013). 

* Note that all tables use data from the U.S. Census Bureau (2016 & 2020a) 

Since 1960, the population of Latinx within the United States has grown, surpassing Black people as the largest minority group (Durand et al, 2006). These demographics changes are shown in data collected and complied by the US Census Bureau (2020b), which defines being Latinx, known within the U.S. Government as “Hispanic or Latino,” “as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” In Texas, the population of the state rose 7.5 million from 2001 to 2019. The analysis of that increase identifies that the non-Latinx population grew by 3 million, while the Latinx population grew 4.5 million. Illinois, contrasting the state population that decreased by 200 thousand from 2001 to 2019, saw the Latinx population grow by that amount. In Pennsylvania, the state saw a decrease in non-Latinx population by around 80 thousand whereas the Latinx population increased by 600 thousand. States where the population grew steadily, like Tennessee and South Dakota, the total population increased at a higher rate than the non-Latinx populace. In fact, the Latinx population of each state has increased, even in states like Alabama, New York, and New Jersey where the population of non-Latinx has become smaller after 18 years (U.S. Census, 2016 & 2020a). 

* Note that all tables use data from the U.S. Census Bureau (2016 & 2020a) 

With the increase in eligible voters comes a rise in political influence and an effort to mobilize them, especially in Texas and California, where Latinx make up almost 40% of people (U.S. Census, 2020a). Studies have been formulated and show that fear as a mobilizing tactic is not as effective for Latinx voters, a normally powerful motivator, unless paired with an activating message (Waldroff, 2020 & Yankey, 2020). It additionally shows that outreach is more successful when Latinx volunteers are the ones doing it (Yankey, 2020). Campaigns have realized that there is no victory without the Latinx vote, the 2020 presidential campaign and the 2021 Georgia special election are prime examples of this (Medina, 2020 & Gamboa, 2021).

            Moreover, this perceived political power is paired with past and current attempts of suppression to reduce Latinx voting rights and participation. Historically, Latinx have been met with poll taxes, English-only literacy tests, and violence (García, 2020). More recently, voter ID laws, voting roll purges, changing and reducing polling locations, and intimidation by poll watchers have been the tactics (García, 2020 & Contreras, 2020). Disinformation to discourage voting has been widespread across the internet (Bond, 2020). 

            And yet, there is not such a thing as one Latinx voter pool. While a majority of Latinx identify as Democrats, it has been shown that Cuban Americans more consistently identify as Republicans (Krogstad, 2020). As for other voting patterns, a gender gap exists in ideology and Latinx women have a lower turnout than Latinx men (Taladrid, 2020).  Based on their background country and personal encounters, Latinx have different priorities; there no such thing as a single Latinx experience. For example, those with some form of Cuban or Venezuelan background are influenced by “socialist” rhetoric (Trevizo, 2020). Additionally, foreign-born Latinx and U.S.-born Latinx of immigrant parents tend to be more Democratic than Latinx whose family has been in the United Sates for three generations (Rakich et al, 2020). Immigration is always mentioned as a big voting issue, but healthcare, the economy and racial inequality are comparably more important to Latinx voters (Krogstad et al, 2020).

            In the 2020 presidential election, 14 to 15 million ballots were cast by Latinx. In Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, Latinx facilitated a Biden victory. In Texas and Florida, Latinx helped secure a Trump victory (Taladrid, 2020). Despite this, estimates say that Biden won around 66 to 70 percent of Latinx votes (Sonneland, 2020 & Taladrid, 2020). The election showed political commentators and campaigns alike that neglect by either party hinders their cause (Taladrid, 2020). In Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada and Texas, Latinx men voted for Biden 58 percent of the time, while 65 percent of Latinx women voted for Biden (Sonneland, 2020). Campaigns, local to federal, need to keep the mobilization ball moving, and ignoring a proportion of their electorate will not do that.  

Katie Lloyd is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in History with a Latin American concentration, minoring in Museum Studies, and pursuing a Certificate of Latin American Studies. She was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia and has been learning Spanish since kindergarten. Katie has previously been an Undergraduate Intern in the Language Department of Brashear High School and Visitor Services Volunteer at various Historic Alexandria Museums. She is primarily interested in Latin American history, indigenous history, politics, and the arts. She plans to pursue a Master of Arts in History or Education. 



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