Patricia Mazzei: How has the “Latino vote” changed over the last few decades?
Jorge Ramos: There used to be three main groups: Mexican-American, Cuban-American, and Puerto Rican, Today, there are Venezuelans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Argentinians, and so on. Before 9/11, the Latino population grew from immigration. Today, it’s births in the US. Younger voters tend to be less conservative than their foreign-born parents.
The common wisdom sees immigration policy as the main Latino concern. Is that true?
JR: Young US-born Latinos are not as attached to that issue as the first generation. It’s not a lack of interest or a different point of view, but a difference in how important it is to them. For almost all Latinos, their main concerns are the same as for non-Latinos: COVID, jobs, healthcare, education. Immigration may rank number four or five. But a candidate’s view on immigration tells a Latino voter who you are.
Carlos Curbelo: Both parties have a Latino problem. Trump is the most anti-immigrant president we’ve had in 50 years, since Operation Wetback. Latinos recoil from his characterizations. But under Obama/Biden, three million undocumented people were deported, and the Democrats’ promise of immigration reform was not kept.
JR: Biden has made three important promises: to legalize undocumented people on day 1 of his administration, to protect Dreamers, and to give TPS status to Venezuelans.
The Republicans have painted Biden as a socialist. Is that strategy working to pull support away from him?
CC: Yes! Obama was hated for opening relations with Cuba. Because Cubans and Venezuelans fled socialist countries and Colombians fled the FARC insurgency, socialism is not an abstraction to them. Biden and Harris laughed at the label at first and were late to recognize that it was working.
Many Latinos left home to escape repressive regimes. Democrats have called Trump a “caudillo,” an authoritarian strongman. Doesn’t that scare Latino voters?
CC: You can’t compare the mentality of Latin Americans with others in the US. They are used to caudillos in power and have a greater tolerance for undemocratic regimes — as long as those leaders deliver on jobs and the economy.
What are the conservative values that appeal to some Latinos?
JR: One big issue is abortion. Women voters who may be angry at his disrespect for women will still vote for him because he delivered on an anti-abortion agenda.
CC: Trump’s “law and order” message after the Black Lives Matter protests at George Floyd murder also gave him a boost
JR: Even though they identify from suffering from the same racism from police.
CC: And while Democrats regularly appear in African American churches, it is Republicans who show up in Latino evangelical socially conservative mega-churches, where they find a receptive audience.
JR: But let’s not forget that 28 percent voted for Trump in 2016. Overall, it seems he has lost support.
What’s the importance now and in the future of the Latino vote?
JR: There is no White House without the Latino vote. It is what will determine the outcome in key states. Yet even with the huge numbers of Latino voters, both parties have exhibited the “Columbus syndrome”: discovering Latinos in election years, stumbling through a few words of Spanish, and then neglecting them once the election is over. Latinos first must vote, at far more than the 50 percent rate of eligible voters in 2016 — and then flex their electoral muscle!