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Here are four ways to engage Latino voters

Everyone wants to find a "magical" way of mobilizing more Latino voters, but nothing beats hands-on engagement, say experts.
by Stephen A. Nuño /
Image:
Voters place their votes at a polling station inside the library at the Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School after casting his ballot in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.Richard Vogel / AP

Voters are going to the polls on Tuesday for primary elections in eight states across the country. Democrats have had this day circled on their calendar since President Trump's election in 2016, because it offers their party an opportunity to set the tone for November's midterm elections and a possible shift in congressional power. All eyes are on California, a state rich with Democrat voters that has a chance to flip up to seven seats in the House in November.

It's tough to turn out voters in midterm elections, though, particularly lower resource Latino voters. As the Democrats look to increase turnout, in particular among minority communities, mobilization is key. Here are four things that can boost Latino voter mobilization ahead of November's midterm elections.

Latino candidates matter

Research on Latino mobilization has shown that Latino candidates are more likely to encourage Hispanic potential voters to come to the polls, because a shared ethnic background is an important component in voter "salience", meaning whether voters are paying attention to the election.

Latino candidates have been shown to pay attention to Latino voters, offering policy solutions addressing specific issues relevant to many in the community, and they offer important cues on whether this common background will be influential in how they represent their district if they're elected.

Latinos have fewer resources, such as wealth, that facilitates a run for office. For instance, the DCCC has backed Gil Cisneros in the 39th District in California, a traditional Republican district that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and marks a great opportunity to pick up a House seat. Cisneros, who gained establishment support from the DCCC because he has several advantages; he's Latino, he's a former Republican, and he has money — Cisneros is a former military man who won a 266 million dollar lottery prize in 2010, and has since become a respected philanthropist, focusing on education.

But other candidates, such as Sam Jammal also in the 39th District, or Ammar Campa-Najjar in District 50, are emphasizing their experiences and work as former members of the Obama administration — known as Obama alums — and Latino organizations.

Use social media for rapid response

One reason Latinos have fewer resources is because Hispanics are a much younger population. Almost half of Latinos are millennials, and younger people tend to vote less.

Political organizations, such as People for the American Way, have developed "rapid response" media campaigns focused on targeting Latino voters through social media. Lizet Ocampo, the Political Director at People for the American Way, says that when they partner with mobilization organizations on the ground, they can influence potential voters to participate.

Ocampo tells NBC News that their efforts were successful in the recent election in Virginia, where two Latina candidates won seats in the state's House of Delegates for the first time. One of the reasons, Ocampo said, that they beat out incumbent statehouse Republicans was because Republican candidates like gubernatorial hopeful Ed Gillespie were targeting immigrants in an attempt to mobilize their bases, which backfired among more moderate voters.

"All the anti-immigrant strategies Republican have, like when Ed Gillespie targeted immigrants in Virginia, we showed that this can have negative consequences for them when they go with this strategy," said Ocampo, whose group mobilized against the negative ads.

Connect on experiences, not just issues

Focusing on experiences or events in the news that Latinos can relate to rather than just talking about political issues can be a powerful tool to capture prospective voters' attention and compel them to act.

Ximena Hartsock, a Chilean-born president for a DC-based digital advocacy company, cited the recent local and national mobilization against the New York lawyer who was captured on video ranting and berating workers at a deli who were speaking Spanish. The video was first published by a Latino-focused website, Latino Rebels, where it caught the attention of Hispanics in the city and around the country, leading to formal complaints.

Common experiences relay important information to Latino voters, particularly in a political environment where there is a complexity in understanding the many issues at play in an election.

Experts say "cues" based on stories in the news or people's experiences — and then shared online and on social — can foster more understanding between the candidate and voters, and it helps organizations connect individual citizens directly with lawmakers using social media to influence important social policies, such as a vote on health care.

"Online media is great for telling stories, and these stories can be used to galvanize young Latinos who want to participate, and there is no other group that is more digitized than Latinos," said Hartsock. "Latinos not only buy the latest technology before everyone else, but they replace the old technology faster, they use social media more, and they are anxious to participate. Outdated mechanisms won't do it."

Knock on more doors

While Latinos are young and offer the Democrats an opportunity to expand their voter base, experts say that Latinos who are already registered to vote need a personal touch if they are expected to turn out on election day. Melissa Michelson, a professor of Political Science at Menlo College in California, says that research has shown over and over that knocking on doors and directly engaging with voters at events is still the best way to get registered voters to come out on election day.

"Everyone wants to find some magical easier way of doing it, with mail, text messages, whatever, but none of those methods of contacts sends the same implicit message to Latino voters, which is that their vote matters," says Michelson, who emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions.

Knocking on doors, says Michelson, "is especially powerful in part because Latinos have traditionally been marginalized from the process. Going to their home with a personal invitation to be a part of that process has a huge impact."

The old adage in political science is that political participation is not only about people going to politics, but about politics going to people. As candidates, especially Democratic candidates, attempt to gain ground on Republicans in the midterms, they need to incorporate and boost strategies that engage Latinos with a personal touch.

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