As the presidential primary season barrels toward Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders’s strong showing among Latino voters — a major factor in his Nevada caucus win — remains a surprise to some. This is true even though reporters have noted that it is logical that Sanders’s core message about economic justice would resonate with many traditionally marginalized communities, including the Latino community.
But analysts have also noted another phenomenon: the high priority that the Sanders campaign placed on direct outreach to Latino voters — including meeting voters where they are in creative ways. The New York Times notes that when early voting began in Nevada, “the Sanders campaign sent a neon truck blasting local Spanish radio out onto the Las Vegas streets, urging people to show up at dozens of early caucus sites. They attracted hundreds of people to a soccer tournament, then offered rides to caucus sites to anyone who showed up.”
In other words, what the campaign did is what PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program has known for years really works: when you prioritize the Latino vote, you win. And that means doing several really important things.
Like what? Well, an illustrative comparison is useful here. There is always a lot of talk about the critical importance of the votes of suburban women. So how does that drive what campaigns do? It means that a great deal of care and attention is given to defining the messages that will resonate with this group. It means not having to ask if the group was included in polling. It means that when budgets are being determined, the money that will be spent to reach this group is among the first to be earmarked for the purpose. It means attention is paid to the right messengers to reach this group and to whom the campaign should hire.
It also means engaging and sending senior and high-profile campaign staff and surrogates to speak with these voters in person or through the media; TV buys and digital buys and mailers; showing up early and often in places where this group can be reached, and via platforms the group uses to communicate. In short, it means lots of resources deployed early and often on the path to victory.
This is what campaigns do when they believe a segment of the voting population has the power to decide an election. Now imagine this same care and attention paid to the Latino vote. If that seems like a novelty, it shouldn’t — because today, in many parts of the country, the growing Latino community DOES have the clout to make all the difference.
And that means no longer can campaigns afford to treat the Latino vote as an afterthought. No longer can they overlook it, or make assumptions like the one that Latino voters have low turnout rates, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy when the resulting minimal efforts at outreach lead, inevitably, to…lower turnout.
At PFAW, our Latinos Vote! program grasped all these critical issues early on. We understood that Latino voters needed to be prioritized in terms of both persuasion and turnout. In Virginia, we engaged people through Latinos Vote! starting in 2012, and we know it has been instrumental in many significant victories since then, including Terry McAuliffe’s election as governor and the historic 2019 election that turned Virginia’s state government all-blue.
Latinos Vote! has been showing up and talking to Virginia’s Latino community consistently, year-in and year-out, including in the “off-off” election years when no federal races are on the ballot. We have invested in paid and earned media, in in-person events with respected figures such as our PFAW board member Dolores Huerta, and we have emphasized both Spanish- and English-language outreach everywhere, including digital platforms but also on TV and radio.
We know that when this outreach is authentic, voters feel heard and seen. When voters can see that they are being prioritized, they feel like their vote really counts — and they are more likely to vote.
So while the headlines are highlighting how the Sanders campaign’s decision to prioritize Latino voters led to their victory, it’s not news to us. Latinos Vote! will continue to do this work, and to sound the alarm that we need to collectively prioritize strategies and resources to engage Latino voters. Because when we do, we win.