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Opinion: Democrats Must Go Left if They Want More Latino Voters

The conventional wisdom says Democrats must focus on reaching white working class voters. That's wrong. They should tack left and engage more Latinos.
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File photo of members of "Latinos Unidos por Obama" at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO., August 28, 2008.ROBYN BECK / AFP/Getty Images

On Saturday Democrats will vote on who will lead the party into the future; the two front-runners for DNC chair are former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison. Regardless of who wins, the topic of intense discussion is what direction the party should take. There's a faulty argument that Democrats need to bridge the gap with disaffected white working class voters in post-industrial America and focus on making concessions to them. But that's wrong. Here's why.

No matter who is elected, the way forward is a more, not less, progressive Democratic Party.

Democrats must do this for three main reasons; a more progressive Democratic Party would be in line with Latino political attitudes, it would increase participation among the fastest growing demographic in the country and white working class post-industrial Republicans will not vote Democrat anyway.

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File photo of members of "Latinos Unidos por Obama" at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO., August 28, 2008.ROBYN BECK / AFP/Getty Images

Despite arguments to the contrary, the academic research has shown Latino partisan identity to be quite steady over the last three decades. And the takeaway is that it has become increasingly Democratic as the Republican Party has become more hostile to Latino issues, especially on immigration.

And it's important to note that immigration is not the only issue where Latinos want a more progressive party. Latinos want stronger protections for the environment, they strongly support a minimum wage and most Hispanics agree that the government should bear some responsibility for health care coverage.

This was obvious during the primary race last year, where Bernie Sanders hit a nerve among young Latino voters frustrated with conventional politicians, including Hillary Clinton. Young Latinos, of which almost half are millennials, formed a generational divide between Clinton and Sanders.

If the next leader of the Democratic Party lurches right to regain white working class voters, they would bleed support from the fastest growing demographic in the country, one that could reshape and energize the party for decades to come.

Much has been said about low participation rates among Hispanics. Less than half of eligible Latino voters participated in the 2012 election. The latest estimates suggest that Clinton made ground among Hispanics, perhaps hitting over 51 percent voter participation, but that means there is still many more Latinos who can be mobilized.

Politics as usual won’t do it. Studies show that improving the slate of candidates to be more representative of Latinos will increase participation among Hispanic voters.

If Latinos feel the Democrats are promoting candidates that understand their experiences and their problems, they will come out to vote in higher numbers. With such a young population, the future of the party is not with a post-industrial demographic looking for jobs in paleo-energy extraction industries, but a forward-looking demographic hungry to work on the future.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in the argument that the Democrats need to reach out to disaffected working class whites is the assumption that they would vote for Democrats to begin with. Democrats have been the party to push for a higher minimum wage. They are the only party pushing for universal health care. They are the only party to push for renewable energy sources. They are the only party that will defend labor standards that center around the worker rather than big business. They are the only party that seeks an affordable and fair public education. If working class whites can't see the benefit in these policies for their communities, there isn't much that will make them see the light.

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Democrats surely have their problems. They continue to make concessions to Wall Street. Hillary Clinton’s ties with corporate America were a constant source of weakness for her when matched against Bernie Sanders.

President Obama naively believed that Republicans were acting in good faith when they demanded that immigration reform would first require going after undocumented immigrants, resulting in the largest deportation effort in history. This resulted in the separation of millions of Latinos from their families and friends here in the United States. President Obama’s plan did nothing but isolate Hispanics from the only party worth trusting. And what did it get the Democrats? They got angry communities in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida chanting to build a wall.

No amount of rationality will convince many white working class voters that the Democrats have any policies worth voting for; they're convinced that these policies only help others. Whatever tonic they have consumed, that is for another discussion, but trying to rationally understand what’s the matter with them is an exercise in futility.

The Democrats know what works. President Obama demonstrated what a strong candidate unafraid to reach out to progressive whites, minorities, and women, can do.

Now is not the time to go back on that. Democrats should push forward on a bold progressive agenda.

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