The media hype over "the Latino vote" is somewhat of an American tradition every presidential election year, but Pew Research Center released a report on the Latino electorate this week that was both encouraging and sobering. While Latinos are leaving a large demographic "footprint" on the country, their low turnout rates will continue to have serious and negative consequences for the community.
The political system has strained under the weight of the growing Latino electorate, and this year will certainly put "the Latino vote" to the test. But if you are hoping numbers alone will change the landscape of our government's policies, here are five clear indicators it has not and may not any time soon.
- First, Latinos once again are a national punching bag for presidential candidates. Donald Trump is winning, and Trump's biggest threat is Ted Cruz, a person who has no substantive difference of opinion with Donald Trump on immigration. Trump announced his presidential run with a slap across the face of the Latino electorate and dared to defy every post-2012 election analysis of the GOP that urged the party to reach out to Latinos to be competitive in 2016.
- Second, it's telling that ISIS, Chinese businesses, New York liberals, and Muslim extremists make up the company Latinos are being included with in the Republican horror story of threats to this country. Exactly zero of these groups will directly impact the Republican nomination at the voting booth, and GOP strategists have already determined that the number of lost Latino votes in the general election is a fair price to pay for the number of white voters they will gain by pumping the electorate with fear.
- Third, the Democrats have done an awful job of turning out Latino voters despite the opportunity presented by Republican vilification. While more Latinos than ever will vote this year, the rate of Latino voter turnout will likely remain flat. The turnout rate for Latinos has actually fallen over the last two elections. Fewer than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2012, the poorest showing since 1988, according to Pew Research Center. This is an indicator that the growth in the Latino vote is almost entirely attributable to the growing size of the Latino electorate, not because of a growing integration of Latinos into the system.
- Fourth, when candidates are desperate for attention, anti-Latino rhetoric is still the "go to" message for Republicans. Chris Christie's campaign is on life support. He has staked his campaign on winning New Hampshire and desperately needs attention. So what does he do? He goes after Latinos. According to state polls, Christie won more than 50 percent of the Latino vote in his re-election bid for governor. Christie has zero concern regarding Latino voters in New Hampshire, and should he make it further into the primary election, there is virtually no chance his messaging will harm him in the near future.
- Last, the GOP may talk a big game when it comes to deporting immigrants, but nobody has actually done more to send back immigrants of Latino families than Democrats. President Obama ranks above anyone else in removing Latinos from their homes and returning them back to their country. And Hillary Clinton stood on her perch as the former secretary of state when she called on unaccompanied minors from Central America to be sent back to almost certain death. (She has since tempered that view) With friends like these, who needs Donald Trump? Any chance the Democrats will pay a price for this? Perhaps the Democrats have decided that low turnout rates are a sustainable price to pay so long at the Republicans continue their current path.
Latinos will need to come out and vote at higher rates if they are ever to be taken seriously by both parties, and if you are betting on young people to pull the weight of American institutions to change the policies of this country, you're going to lose. Fortunately for Hillary Clinton, her focus is on this year, not the next millennium. That's good news for Hillary voters, not so good for Latinos. At least not for now.