Latino vote surged in 2018, new data shows

Participation was up nationally and in key states, according to new reports.

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By Benjy Sarlin and Stephen Nuño-Pérez

Latino voters turned out at much higher rates in the 2018 midterm elections than prior cycles, according to new private and public data, giving Democratic candidates a boost that could have implications for the presidential race.

Earlier this week, a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau found that Hispanic turnout leaped by 13.4 points from the 2014 midterms to 40.4 percent in 2018. While voter participation was up across the board — turnout hit a 100-year high overall — that was a larger jump than white (11.7) or black voters (10.8) and only slightly more than Asian voters (13.3).

On Thursday, pollster Latino Decisions and Democratic data firm Catalist released their own detailed analysis of Latino turnout in Arizona, Texas, Florida and Nevada, all of which had major statewide races in November. The study was commissioned by America’s Voice and the Immigration Hub, two immigrant advocacy groups.

In each case, they found Latinos making up a higher proportion of the electorate in 2018 than in 2014: Their share was five points more in Texas and Nevada and three points more in Florida and Arizona. The gains were largest in precincts where more than 70 percent of the population was Latino.

Driving up the turnout among the fast-growing Latino electorate, which historically has lagged behind black and white participation, could be critical to the Democrats in winning those states in 2020. Part of the difficulty has been that Latino voters skew younger than other demographic groups. The 2018 elections saw a larger overall increase in participation among voters 18-29 than any other age group, which may have helped boost Latino numbers in particular.

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Latino voters supported Democratic candidates by wide margins, according to the Latino Decisions/Catalist study: 75 percent in Arizona, 75 percent in Texas, 71 percent in Nevada, and 61 percent in Florida.

The report concluded that the turnout and margins among Latino voters were "largely responsible" for Democratic Senate wins in Nevada and Arizona, where they helped overcome Republican candidates' own advantage with white voters.

In a conference call Thursday around the report's findings, pollsters and progressive strategists urged Democrats and candidates to work with community organizations who can reach prospective Latino voters sooner rather than later in the election cycle.

“Late investment negatively impacted execution,” said Emmy Ruiz, a political consultant and a former state director for the Obama and Clinton campaigns. “We saw that the lack of funds impacted capacity and limited our gains in the outcome," noting it kept organizations from reaching their full potential to reach voters.

Alex Gomez, the co-executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), said that discussions with Democrats over engagement with the Latino community was an “evolving conversation,” though she has seen more interest in reaching out to communities of color over the last decade.

Latinos have been building infrastructure within the community over the last 10 years, said Gomez, noting that the successful grassroots mobilization against SB1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law, is nearing its 10-year anniversary.

According to their polling data, the top issues driving Latino voters to the polls were relatively consistent across all four states: health care, the economy, and immigration. President Donald Trump was also likely a factor as 70 percent of the respondents said he had done something to make them angry, and 69 percent said they had felt disrespected by his words and actions.

The Latino Decisions/Catalist study also included interviews and surveys with groups on the ground devoted to registering and turning out Latino voters.

Immigration was "not the primary or the main issue" that most drove Latino participation most effectively, based on their conversations.

This largely dovetailed with their polling data on voters: While it was a top policy concern, the same report found it was voters' top issue only in Texas, where 34 percent of respondents cited it, versus 31 percent of voters who named health care and 31 percent who named the economy.

In Arizona, Gomez noted that while immigration has been a catalyst for Latino mobilization, voters have also responded to local issues such as raising the minimum wage as well as to the campaigns of more diverse candidates.