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America’s fastest-growing, frequently misunderstood voting bloc

Every election year, plenty of Americans, especially political pundits, rediscover the “sleeping giant” that is the Latino electorate. 

Katty Huertas for Vox
Christian Paz is a senior politics reporter at Vox, where he covers the Democratic Party. He joined Vox in 2022 after reporting on national and international politics for the Atlantic’s politics, global, and ideas teams, including the role of Latino voters in the 2020 election.

Part of The power and potential of Latino voters, from The Highlight, Vox’s home for ambitious stories that explain our world.

Latino and Hispanic Americans represent about one of every five people living in the United States right now. As the largest minority voting group, we stand to make up about one in 10 eligible voters in this year’s midterm elections. And as the saying goes, a Latino voter comes of age every 30 seconds.

Our power is growing and undeniable, but every election year, it feels like plenty of Americans, especially Beltway political pundits, rediscover the “sleeping giant” that is the Latino electorate — usually in the closing weeks of a heated campaign season, when activists sound the alarm that their parties aren’t doing enough to reach out to Latino voters. Neither side ends up completely happy with Latino turnout after Election Day, and the cycle begins again with promises to do better. Meanwhile, Latino voters are left to wonder why they should even engage in the electoral system.

The 2020 election might have followed a similar pattern, but ultimately, Latinos turned out in record numbers to sustain American democracy, protect their families, and mete out victory to those they deemed worthy of it.

Those results meant different things to the parties. Democrats saw weakening support in congressional races and in swing states, and spent months bickering over why. Republicans recovered some of the losses Donald Trump incurred after a terrible showing in 2016, and prematurely declared a grand realignment of Latino voters. And though the overall profile of Latino voters remained the same (the vast majority still voted Democratic) a new line of conventional wisdom had emerged: Latinos are not a monolith.

Some version of that phrase, and the declaration that there is no such thing as “the Latino vote,” have since become easy, but opaque, ways to describe the diversity of Latino voters. In the wake of the 2020 election, for example, some liberal attempts to explain rightward shifts among Latino voters attacked the idea of a Latino voting bloc, essentially erasing Latino identity completely. Republicans, on the other hand, end up papering over Latino identity with an overgeneralization traced back to Ronald Reagan: that Hispanics and Latinos are conservatives, but “they just don’t know it.”

Describing the heterogeneity of Latino communities should be the starting point of any political and social analysis of these voters; it requires understanding that as different as we all are, we still share common experiences. We differ based on where we were born, which language we speak at home, where our parents came from and when, the kind of community that raised us, and even what we call ourselves (just think of the word Latinx). But our fates are interwoven. We are told we are not a race — we can be white, Black, or brown — but we are still a racialized minority that faces disparities and discrimination, is viewed and treated as Other, often in contrast to white Americans. It’s in those lived experiences and complex differences that we find community, feel solidarity, and are remaking the American identity.

Through the September edition of The Highlight, Vox hopes to provide a better understanding of the complexities, contradictions, and future of the country’s 32 million Latino voters.

Looking back to 2020, veteran journalist Ray Suarez assesses some of the most cited explanations for how and why Latinos voted the way they did — and asks the big question of whether Democrats will fare better or worse in the 2022 midterms.

Democrats are also facing a familiar problem in 2022: the spread of political misinformation and disinformation online and in traditional media. While some candidates and leaders blamed false narratives for losses in 2020, experts told me that elections this year present an evolving problem: misinformation has changed, and Democrats need to start engaging with it more seriously to win the persuasion game.

With the Supreme Court declaring that the constitution does not protect the right to abortion, political strategists, pundits, and journalists all wonder how abortion politics will affect this election year. Vox’s Nicole Narea explores the role of abortion politics in Latino communities — and finds an interesting relationship between the high degree of religiosity among Latinos and their stances on abortion.

As Republicans try to capitalize on some of the inroads they’ve made among Latinos in the last two years (a trend highlighted by a recent New York Times poll), a diverse array of conservative candidates have made it onto general election ballots this year. Vox’s Li Zhou finds one particular identity is breaking through on the right: the Latina Republican.

Democrats, meanwhile, were facing the midterm elections without a solid pitch to voters until a spate of late summer wins revived their prospects. I spent some time profiling one vocal Latino Democrat, Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, who is leading some of the party’s work to hold onto and persuade more Latinos. As Democrats face tough headwinds, he’s been trying to convince the party to start punching back at Republican attacks — and he’s got a theory of politics that might inform a decision to run for Senate.

Those pieces, and the others in this project, combine for an exhaustive but still incomplete portrait. With that in mind, our goal is that the issue will challenge audiences, Latino and not, to think about our communities differently, and to ask even more questions.

In this issue of The Highlight, Vox uses both “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Generally, Latino refers to someone who can trace their family origin to Latin America. Hispanic typically refers exclusively to someone with Spanish-speaking ancestry. Some of The Highlight’s sources for interviews and data use the terms interchangeably. Read this Vox comic or visit Language Please for more information on the terms.

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