There is no doubt that 2020 will be the most important year of my life. Between the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Census, social justice and the presidential election, this year has made all of us, collectively, rethink what’s important for our families and in our communities. Perhaps for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color), 2020 has highlighted the importance of unity, empathy and community because, as diverse groups, we have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, racism and divisive politics.
As we head into the final stretch of a presidential election cycle where, for the first time, Hispanics will form the largest voting bloc after the non-Hispanic White population, the question on everyone’s minds is whether the uncertainty of the times will drive more Latinos to the polls.
We often hear that Latinos have low voter turnout, with just 40% of eligible 18+ Latino voters casting ballots. Technically, this statement is true, but it isn’t the whole story. In fact, 72% of registered Hispanic voters vote.
At Nielsen, we spend a lot of time evaluating the social, economic and political trends of Hispanics. All the research tells us that Hispanics value their right to vote, and we see this in the registered voting population. The challenge is that not enough eligible Latinos are registered to vote. In fact, only about half of us were registered in 2018 — putting our community behind the White and Black populations.
There are a few key reasons for this. One stems from the makeup of the Hispanic demographic. The U.S. Hispanic population is disproportionately young, with nearly one-third of the population under the age of 18. The second reason is that a smaller percentage of Latinos over the age of 18 are registered, as compared to other groups. This is why registration activities among Latino communities are so important. Our greatest challenge isn’t that we don’t vote, because when we are registered, we do indeed vote at rates similar to other demographic groups. Our community’s greatest challenge is to increase registration among eligible Latino voters. As registration numbers increase, so will voting. These numbers move in lockstep.
There are several reasons why Latinos may be less likely to be registered. First, there are some barriers in place that hinder registration. In some states, registration is complex and perplexing, resulting in diminished registrations. For many eligible Latinos, there are privacy concerns, where eligible Latino voters wonder if they might expose family or friends who are undocumented or in the process of seeking documentation. Alternatively, young Latino families who live in states where registration contains an in-person component may not be able to take time off to visit a registration location. These families may also have childcare or eldercare issues that present roadblocks to leaving the home and exposing themselves unnecessarily to the virus. Or, perhaps Latinos are under registered because many feel that candidates don’t speak directly to us on issues that matter to our families and our communities.
Hispanics, who comprise almost 20% of the U.S. population, respond to an aspirational narrative. We believe in the American dream because we are living it. Latinos are rapidly rising in all socioeconomic indicators: income, education, homeownership, entrepreneurship and civic engagement. We are optimistic about our future in America.
But frequently, Latinos feel excluded in the American narrative. There are many examples: friends being told to stop speaking Spanish and “go back to your country”; not seeing enough Latino faces in the media, and when we do, they are often demeaning stereotypes of Hispanics; and of course, charged political rhetoric that attacks immigrants and our home countries.
Politicians who truly want to represent all their constituents must counter this negative narrative by being deliberately inclusive and expressing personal outreach to Latinos. We want to see more Hispanic candidates running for all levels of elected office, and conducting grassroots campaigns like talking to voters in our neighborhoods.
We want candidates to show they respect the values that Hispanics prioritize, such as family, tradition and culture, and that they will address the issues we care most about like jobs, health care and education.
With voter registration deadlines looming in early October in some states, now is a crucial time for eligible Hispanic voters to register, because data shows, once registered, Latinos are far more likely to vote. Equally important is engaging Latino youth. Roughly every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote. Given the youthfulness of the Hispanic population, these young adults represent a huge potential voter base. I’m personally reminding all my family and friends to register and vote.
Latinos turned out in record numbers for the 2018 midterm elections. I know we can set a new record this November, and every election after that. Latinos are the political future of this country, but it’s up to us to make this a reality: we must register to vote — and then do it.