The most notable fact about Latino voters in the recent midterm elections is how turnout remained flat – unchanged from the 2006 and 2010 midterms at 8%, even while the Latino community is the fastest-growing electorate in the country and its share of the eligible voting population has grown to 11% or 25 million (up from 17 million in 2006). The Latino voter surge some predicted failed to materialize, according to data from the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. The numbers don’t lie, and many Hispanics simply stayed home. Midterm elections historically have lower turnout rates overall compared to elections held during presidential election years, and Pew says that Hispanics have among the lowest turnout of any group in midterm elections.
The president’s decision to delay action on immigration reform until after the election may have played a part in Latino voter turnout remaining the same despite gains in voter population numbers. Pew’s 2014 National Survey of Latinos found that 66% said passing immigration reform legislation was “extremely” or “very” important. A little over a third (35%) said they were either “disappointed” or “angry” with the president’s decision to delay action, even while about half (49%) said the economy was their top issue. Additionally, while 60% of Latinos voted for Democrats this year in congressional elections, that is down from 68% two years ago.
In what is surely to be good news for the Republican Party, while Democrats still won the Latino vote, Republican candidates were able to gain a significant share of Latino voters. Pew data shows that in Texas, for example, the Republican gubernatorial candidate obtained 44% of the state’s Latino voters. Additionally, Republican Latino candidates were elected, including in the Michigan state legislature and the Nevada assembly, and Illinois’ new lieutenant governor is Cuban American, a first for the state.
“Many of these newly elected diverse candidates were the reason Republicans reached an all-time high of majorities held,” says Neri Martínez of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which in 2011 started the Future Majority Project to recruit women and Hispanic candidates for office. “The Colorado Senate and New Mexico House, for instance, have new GOP majorities by running and winning with diverse candidates, and we are committed to expanding the Future Majority Project to reach even more Hispanics and voters in the coming years,” Martínez told LATINO Magazine.
One bright spot to emerge in the congressional midterms is the record numbers of Latinos who will join the 114th Congress when it convenes in January. The U.S. House of Representatives will have 29 members who are Hispanic, including newbie Republican Alex Mooney, a Cuban American who becomes the first Latino to represent West Virginia, which has the country’s smallest share of Latino residents. Mooney is a former state senator from the adjacent state of Maryland and is also a former congressional staffer.
Another historic first is the election of Norma Torres, a California state legislator who becomes the first member of Congress to be born in Central America. Torres is a native of Guatemala who came to the United States at the age of five when her father relocated the family to Los Angeles after Torres’ mother died. Torres worked as a 911 operator and was a union organizer who led an effort to hire more bilingual operators in the county, where Latinos comprise nearly 50% of the population. Torres was also a mayor and a member of the California State Assembly and Senate. Her life story is similar to that of many immigrant families in the United States, and immigrant rights groups say her election to Congress is good news for the nation’s growing immigrant and Latino communities.
“Her election not only contributes to the historic increase of Latinos in Congress but represents a big win as she will help bring new perspectives that only greater diversity can bring and that are so needed to help solve the community’s greatest issues and concerns,” said Maribel Hastings, senior advisor at America’s Voice. “Diversity in our elected leadership is vital for our country.”
At 1.5 million, Latinos in the United States who are of Guatemalan origin are the country’s six-largest population of Hispanic residents. The Guatemalan consulate in Los Angeles called her election “a great moment of pride for Guatemala and the Guatemalan community in the United States.”
Torres won decisively – 64% to 36%. She replaces Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod, who decided against seeking another term in order to run for a county supervisor post in Los Angeles County. “It still feels like a dream and it is a great opportunity to be representing Guatemala in this way,” Torres said during her election night victory party in Pomona. “It really still feels like a dream.”
According to the Pew Hispanic Research Project, 64% of Guatemalans in the United States are immigrants, compared to 36% of Latinos overall, and most Guatemalans live in California. A majority of them in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
“The Latino community is not monolithic,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Rather, it’s a community filled with incredible diversity, and it’s important that the Central American perspective is now more directly represented in Congress.”
“Latino candidates made history on election night, securing groundbreaking victories in contests across the country and in both political parties,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. “We witnessed Latino statewide executive office candidates win in non-traditional states nationwide, with Latinos also securing the numbers needed to form the largest congressional class of Latinos in history. Latinos will continue to shape the nation’s political landscape as candidates, demonstrating their ability to lead and win at all levels of office.”
By Patricia Guadalupe