DETROIT, Mich. — With less than two weeks to the presidential election, a conversation with Latinos in the "battleground" state of Michigan finds many reeling from what has been a bitter and no-holds-barred campaign.
Michigan resident Margarita Bauzá is a native of Puerto Rico who came to the state for college and stayed for work. She says she is “most definitely voting” on Election Day, but adds that the level of negativity is so nerve-wracking that she prefers not to say which candidate she’ll pick on November 8.
“Election season is always a difficult time, especially for its impact on important relationships where families and friends have different points of view," said Bauzá. "This election has been particularly disruptive in that regard. I've been coping by hitting the yoga mat as often as possible,” she said.
The political vitriol is so bad this year that an American Psychological Association survey found that more than half say this campaign has been “a very or somewhat significant source of stress.” That is particularly true for Latinos in battleground states like Michigan as they watch the constant barrage of ads and campaigning.
More than 230,000 Michigan Hispanics are eligible to vote this year, representing nearly half of the state’s Latino residents. Latinos are 5 percent of Michigan’s population and 3 percent of the electorate but their numbers are expected to at least double by 2040. That number of Hispanic voters, say groups involved in voter registration efforts this year, will likely be larger once the final tally is calculated after the election.
Hispanics are not just recent arrivals; many may not know that Michigan had a significant Mexican-American population that shrank after the state took measures during the Depression to support the return of workers to Mexico.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton continues to enjoy widespread support among Latino voters nationwide. The latest Latino Decisions/Telemundo tracking poll shows Latinos backing Clinton 66 percent compared to just 15 percent for her GOP rival Donald Trump. Of the 11 states – including Michigan -- likely to determine the winner on November 8, President Obama swept them all in 2008 and all except one in 2012. Latino voters in Michigan believe that not only will Clinton likely repeat those wins, but the margin will be larger because of one factor: Donald Trump.
“Our choices in this election are so stark, and the vitriol and threats and fear-mongering and such coming from Donald Trump truly are scary,” said Cynthia Orosco, a resident of suburban Detroit who works in the advertising field. “I also think it's scary, as the mother of a young daughter, that his candidacy has given such a broad forum to people who share discriminatory, sexist, and racist points of view — we're all entitled to our opinions, but perpetuating hate serves no purpose,” she said.
That “ugliness” that Orosco mentions is a recurring theme among Latino voters in the Great Lake State.
Cynthia’s mother, Juanita Orosco, also a Clinton supporter, is a 65-year-old retired autoworker who has been voting for decades, but says this election is unique – and not in a positive way. “This is the worst and ugliest election I have seen in my life.”
Many of Michigan’s more than 230,000 Latino voters mirror the rest of the country’s Hispanic voters in backing Clinton, but also express a level of dissatisfaction overall – just like voters in other states, according to the polls.
That’s true even among some Trump supporters, says Miguel, who asked to be identified only by his first name because he is afraid of backlash.
“I just don’t want to hear about how terrible Trump is. I have a lot of family and friends who are Democrats and I know they would be mad if they knew I was voting for Trump, and I don’t want to be attacked for it,” says Miguel, an office worker. “I’ve even voted for Democrats before, but I can’t this time around. I’m real uncomfortable with Hillary."
Miguel described Clinton as a "typical career politician" and said Trump is a businessman; he'll know what to do. Miguel said he's seen a lot of people struggling financially.
"And yeah, we have to do something about illegal immigration and our borders. People forget Detroit is right on the border too —it scares me to think what kind of bad people might be coming in through here because no one is paying attention and just looking at the border with Mexico,” said Miguel. He's a native of Michigan born to Mexican-American parents who left the Southwest to work in the state's automotive industry back in the 1960s.
First-time voter Justin Maldonado, a community college freshman who turned 18 over the summer, said he feels slightly jealous of those who voted for the first time in previous elections.
“I wish I had been able to vote when President Obama first ran. Everyone was so excited back then and it was such a big deal. You felt this real electricity in the air. Now, not so much,” said Maldonado, who adds he’s not enthusiastic about any candidate this year.
Millennials like Maldonado —those between the ages of 18 and 32 — make up more than four-in-ten of Michigan's Latinos.
“Trump has said some terrible things, but Hillary is not someone I’m real happy about either. I’m going to vote, for sure I’m not staying home, my family says it’s real important that we all vote, but I’m still up in the air as to who (I’m picking). I’m really going to think about this and also focus on the other races on the ballot,” he said.
In the meantime, Bauzá is hitting her yoga mat frequently as she counts down to Election Day.
“I am pretty much all about letting go right now. You can control your vote, but not the way other people vote.”