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Young Latino voters say tackling racial inequality is 2020 election priority. But who's listening?

Asked to name a political figure who had shown up for the Latino community, the top answer was “nobody.”
Members of the Latino community at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City on June 14, 2020.
Members of the Latino community at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City on June 14, 2020.Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

A third of young Latinos registered to vote cannot name one politician "who goes out of their way to support their community," according to a poll published Thursday by BuzzFeed and Telemundo.

When asked to name a political figure who had shown up for the Latino community, the most consistent answer was “nobody,” at 33 percent — followed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Joe Biden, each with 6 percent. President Donald Trump was at 3 percent.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Sarah Audelo, executive director of the group Alliance for Youth Action, a national network of groups building political power among young people.

“We can’t have so many young Latinos disconnected from the process because they don’t feel part of it. And that is not on them, that is on us, the government, on schools for not educating us on how to be civically engaged and the politicians who are choosing to ignore them,” Audelo said.

Latinos are the nation's largest share of nonwhite voters: A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote in November, which is 13 percent of all eligible voters. But what's more notable is their youth — about 40 percent of eligible Latino voters are 18 to 35, according to census data.

Latinos are among the youngest racial or ethnic group in the country with a median age of 30, according to the Pew Research Center. One million Latinos are expected to turn 18 every year for the next two decades, meaning it's almost impossible to engage Latino voters without understanding their connection to the nation’s youth vote.

From 2008 to 2018, Latinos contributed "all (100%) of the numerical growth of registered voters ages 18 to 34," adding well over 1 million, compared to a decline of almost 2.5 million non-Latinos during the same period, the poll from BuzzFeed and Telemundo (NBC's sister network) found. Such growth is far-reaching in swing states such as Arizona and Florida, where many new Gen Z and Millennial voters are Hispanic.

In the short term, the candidates lose the most when young voters are not engaged properly, said Audelo, but "in the long term, it’s the country.”

How are candidates engaging young Latino voters?

Ninety percent of all the young people surveyed by Civiqs, a polling and data analytics company, on behalf of Alliance for Youth Action last month, reported having a "very unfavorable" opinion of Trump.

And yet, the Trump campaign is advertising more to young people than Biden, especially to the ages of 18-25, according to Civiqs.

For the past 50 years, one third of the Latino electorate has consistently voted for Republican candidates. At least a fifth of young Latinos plan to vote Republican in November, the poll from BuzzFeed and Telemundo found, a voting bloc that has been important for Republicans in swing states such as Arizona and Florida.

Twenty-nine percent of young Latino voters said conservative issues such as religious rights, Christian principles, gun ownership, respect for law enforcement and opposition to abortion are motivating them to vote.

About 40 percent of young voters ages 18-39 in 10 battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin) have not been contacted by the Biden campaign or the Democratic Party, according to the Civiqs poll.

“These are votes he should be chasing,” Audelo said of Biden, adding that the numbers should worry anyone opposed to Trump's re-election. They are especially alarming, she said, since Gen Z voters continue to view Biden less favorably than older millennial voters, in part because many are too young to know who he is.

Irene Godinez, director and founder of the advocacy group Poder NC Action, said most of the volunteers helping her with Latino voter outreach in her North Carolina community are young Latinos 25 and younger because many believe it would be “catastrophic for them” to have Trump as president for four more years.

"If people have the privilege to direct their own government, it would be ignorant not to vote," said Godinez, quoting one of her volunteers. That's the sentiment motivating her volunteers to rally other Latino voters in the new battleground state. But to their surprise, convincing people to vote in November has not been a big problem, Godinez said.

Seventy-five percent of young Latino voters surveyed by BuzzFeed and Telemundo said the 2020 presidential election is more important than the 2016 election. At least 52 percent said they're more likely to vote this year.

“We don’t have to convince people as to the urgency of voting because our voters are experiencing all the challenges our country is going through," Godinez said. "If anything, it’s about informing them on what are their options to create a plan for voting."

What's motivating young Latino voters?

Young Latino voters reported that racial and ethnic equality is the core issue driving them to the polls. Over 8-in-10 Latino registered voters (85 percent) are more likely to vote if it means addressing inequities and systemic barriers, the Telemundo and BuzzFeed survey found.

Hispanics and Blacks are more likely to experience poverty in the U.S. and live in underserved neighborhoods and attend schools with fewer resources.

The vast majority (82 percent) of young Latinos surveyed said the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd's death are motivating them to vote and advocate for their community.

Seven-in-10 young Latinos also said that issues concerning the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are motivating them to vote.

"They’ve been watching their parents lose their jobs, their grandparents die from COVID-19 because of how Trump has handled the pandemic. It is their sense of survival that is driving their desire to organize and turn out the vote," said Tania Unzueta, political director of Mijente, a national Latino grassroots movement born after the #Not1More Deportation campaign in 2015.

The Civiqs poll from last month found that coronavirus is the top issue for all young voters in 10 battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin).

At least 83 percent of young Latinos say the coronavirus has affected their health or finances, including almost half (48 percent) who say they have suffered financially because of job losses or pay cuts, according to the BuzzFeed and Telemundo poll.

Both Godinez and Unzueta said they started their advocacy organizations in order to build "political homes" for their Latino communities. They are both currently engaging with voters by continuously "checking in on folks and offering COVID resources. Then we engage with the electoral," Unzueta said.

"This approach motivates young folks because it immediately connects this moment to the role of government and the consequences of this election," Unzueta added.

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