The UConn El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean and Latin American Studies and the Connecticut Democracy Center at Connecticut’s Old State House co-hosted a panel discussing the rise of the Latino vote and how it has transformed the United States electoral landscape.
Panelists from around the country joined moderator Charles Venator, a professor at UConn with a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and El Instituto, to share their thoughts on how the Latino vote came to be and the various topics of interest for Latinos during the 2020 presidential election.
Benjamin Francis-Fallon, a professor at Western Carolina University and author of “The Rise of the Latino Vote,” started things off by discussing the historical context of the Latino vote and how it was forged. He drew on past research conducted for his book that shed light on how voters in U.S. elections with Latin American roots came to form an important voting bloc.
“The Latino vote was painstakingly created over decades,” Francis-Fallon said.
In his book, Francis-Fallon writes how Latino political power is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged during the turbulent years of the 1960s and 1970s. A key concern during the formative years of the creation of the Latino vote that is still relevant today is whether the fundamentally diverse group of voters that constitute the Latino voting bloc could join forces, or if they would continue to affiliate with their particular ethnic communities.
The Latino bloc is comprised of voters from many nations, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Ecuador and many more that combine to create a very ethnically diverse group of people who hold different stances when it comes to certain political issues. According to some of the panelists, this diversity among the Latino population is often regarded as a cause for concern leading up to the presidential election, but changing the narrative can help utilize this diversity to unite all members of the Latino population.
“If we understand identity politics with identity as the aggregation of interest … then that process of aggregation can serve as a political platform for guiding political behavior,” Jose Cruz, a professor of political science and Latino studies at the University of Albany, State University of New York, said.
In doing so, Cruz asserts that voters can focus on issues that are important and relevant to their own lives while also working toward the common good of all Latino voters. Many candidates often miss the mark with gaining the Latino vote because they combine it into the same pool, and completely disregard the diversity among the electorate.
“I find it very interesting that everyone wants to take the Latino vote and throw it in the same pool,” Geraldo Reyes Jr., a CT State Representative of the 75th Assembly District of Waterbury, said. “It is incredible how diverse the Latino bloc really is. It is misidentified many times.”
Being able to balance a fine line between addressing the Latino bloc as a whole while also taking into account the diverse population that makes it the important demographic that it has become is a challenging task for many politicians.
In regard to the Latino vote, one of the current and most important threats to the rise of the Latino vote is the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the Latino voter and has many implications leading up to the election. Earlier this month, a poll conducted by NPR reported that more than 70% of Latino households in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston were facing serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic has also created another major issue regarding mail in voting for not only Latino voters, but all eligible voters. Rep. Geraldo shared how he has seen firsthand that the voting registrars have been dealt a card that they could never have prepared for. He went on to say how many Latino voters have never utilized mail-in voting which could result in their vote not being counted.
The current election is reinventing the political game and being able to increase voter turnout among Latinos is a key factor in the election of the next president. Despite being one of the fastest growing voting blocs, the Latino vote continues to be left out of the conversation and candidates do not spend adequate time campaigning toward this community.
“I have always felt, more so in the latter years than now, that the Latino vote is normally taken for granted,” Reyes Jr. said.
With one of the most important presidential elections on the horizon, this panel offered insight to the importance of the Latino vote, what members of the Latino voting bloc’s role will be in this and future elections and why the value of the Latino vote needs to be raised to reflect its true political power.