The increasing political power of the Massachusetts Latino population and what it means for the midterm election

By Nidavirani (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Anna Guaracao
Boston University Statehouse Program

More Latinos in Massachusetts are worried about the economy and their financial situation, according to a recent poll, and with persistent socioeconomic disadvantages in the state, experts and advocates say their political participation is expected to grow in the upcoming midterm election. 

According to that recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe/Telemundo poll, about 69% of Latinos consider the economy is in a recession or a depression. Only 50% of all likely general election voters had the same opinion.

Similarly, over 50% of Latino votes are worried about their financial situation or employment, and 29% said recent price increases are causing “a lot” of economic hardship, compared to 49% and 22% of all potential voters surveyed. 

“[Latinos] are more likely to vote because they’re concerned,” UMass Boston political science professor Luis Jiménez said about inequalities motivating Latino voters. “That’s what’s driving them.”

Jiménez pointed out that many more of the 800,000 Latino residents continue to struggle with social and economic hardship, despite living in one of the wealthiest states in the country.

But the community is not a monolith, and the socioeconomic inequalities Latinos face reflects their diversity, according to a study from UMass Boston’s Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy.

The 2022 report titled, “¡AVANCEMOS YA!: Persistent Economic Challenges and Opportunities Facing Latinos in Massachusetts,” states that Latino poverty falls behind other racial and ethnic groups as it is more than six percentage points higher than Black poverty and three times higher than white poverty.

Despite the continuously high poverty and economic insecurity levels, many Latino communities had progressed in the years before the pandemic. But the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hit Latino communities especially hard – reversing some progress. 

“With our [current] economy, it’s not surprising that Latinos feel this way,” Jiménez said. “[Latinos] were disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”

Jiménez said that Latino workers were concentrated in frontline industries going into the pandemic, which meant they were more likely to be laid off and get sick.

This has had a heavy impact on many Latino households’ financial situations, and in recent years, political opinions on how to best mitigate these issues have become more different.

The Latino community is not a monolith

Despite Democratic candidates winning Bay State cities with a high Latino population concentration in previous elections, they don’t have the vote wholly secured. There is a misconception about Latino voting trends as Republican candidates continue to narrow the gap nationwide in recent years – particularly among Latino men.

Equis Research reported that Latino men were more likely to vote Republican and support GOP presidential candidates than Latinas. 

Overall, many Latinos in the U.S. are gradually favoring the GOP’s agenda, and in September, 33% of Latinos preferred a Republican-controlled Congress, according to this month’s NBC News/Telemundo poll.

While former President Trump lost Massachusetts in 2020, the margin between his vote and President Biden’s narrowed in many Massachusetts gateway cities with high Latino populations and more social and economic inequalities, like Lawrence. 

In 2020, Trump narrowed the gap from his former Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, by 21 percentage points, according to an analysis by Rich Parr, a research director at MassINC Polling Group. 

Similarly, in 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker came within 116 votes of beating Democrat Jay Gonzalez in Lawrence.

Jiménez said that although this trend is becoming more apparent, it’s important to note that there have always been Latinos who vote Republican. Even though some who identify as Cuban are more likely to vote red nationwide, they’re not driving this trend in Massachusetts. 

“It’s not them driving the difference,” he said. “If Massachusetts starts to become purple, it would not be because of [Cubans] because there’s not enough of them. What’s happening instead is that there are low-information voters.”

As the U.S.-born Latino population continues to increase, Jiménez said that we could expect more of an even turnout for both parties as some start to become like the rest of the electorate and vulnerable to misinformation’s influence. 

“Latinos are not immune to that,” he said.

Because of the diversity of identities, experiences and political opinions within the Massachusetts Latino population, Brenda Sanchez, vice president of engagement and alumni advancement at Amplify Latinx, said it’s inaccurate to think that all Latinos will vote for one party. She said candidates should be able to address the diversity in issues and experiences within this community. 

“It’s flawed thinking that just because we share a common language, therefore we all think the same,” she said. “It is a responsibility of anyone running for office, anyone who is truly looking to make an impact. It is important they honor our community by really getting into the trenches and getting to know people.” 

Increasing Latino political power

As the midterm election approaches, Jiménez expects voter turnouts to continue rising. 

“I expect it’s going to be maybe the highest it’s ever been,” Jiménez said.

In future elections, he also pointed out that we will see more Latinos motivated not just to vote but also to run for office. 

In the state primaries, the potential for Latino representation on Beacon Hill increased as seven new candidates won the Democratic primaries in their districts. 

For some, it was thanks to the recent redistricting. 

“As a result of the map being redrawn, our Latino community leaders – because they are engaged, they are involved – really saw an opportunity to jump in and take advantage of that,” Sanchez said. “As an organization, it’s really exciting that now we get to invite those candidates and be that platform, to educate our community.”

But, according to the Gastón Institute, turnout among the state’s Latino population is still below the national average due to various social barriers, a problem the Latino community has faced for decades. 

One barrier is access to education. 

The two largest Latino communities in the state, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, have relatively low levels of higher education attainment, which Gastón researchers determine may be correlated with poverty. The same is true of the largest Central American communities – Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. 

Jiménez pointed to this as one of the big reasons for lower political engagement in the past. 

“We do a terrible job of educating Latinos,” Jiménez said. “[Latinos] are more likely to drop out, they’re not likely to get high school degrees, etc.”

“The less education you have, the less likely you’ll vote.” 

Lack of voter eligibility among Latinos has had an impact on previous elections as candidates haven’t extensively tried to appeal to the needs of the Latino community.

“Historically, the political parties have not paid attention to [Latinos] because the payoff trying to mobilize is low,” Jiménez said. “Because it takes a lot of resources to mobilize people, the political parties just [won’t] bother.”

Jiménez said that in the past decade, that has changed.

As more advocacy groups like Amplify Latinx have popped up in the state, Latino voter turnout has increased, especially in the 2020 presidential election, which was second to that of white voters. 

“It’s really hard to ignore the Latino vote now in 2022,” he said. “If you’re not even seen as trying to, then you’re going to lose.”

Attracting Latino voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections
With increasing voter turnouts, Latino voters can determine election outcomes, especially as the community is projected to grow by over 15% of the state’s population by 2035. 

This has recently influenced Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates to gear their campaigning efforts to include Latino outreach. 

At the beginning of October, Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor, Maura Healey, and Kim Driscoll, visited communities like Chelsea and Holyoke to outline how they will boost Latino economic recovery and improve quality of life, according to the Healey campaign. 

Republican candidates Geoff Diehl and Leah Allen haven’t embarked on a similar public tour, but according to a statement from campaign manager Amanda Orlando, they have spoken with Latino voters in person and via the media throughout their campaign. 

Community leaders like Tomas Gonzalez, Amplify Latinx board member and chair of their advocacy and policy committee, said it’s not enough. 

He considers the state’s Latino community a sleeping giant with increasing political influence, and candidates must make a consistent and robust effort if they want to attract more voters. 

“Stop waiting to talk to us until the end of the campaign,” Gonzalez said. “It’s offensive to start conversations with the Latino community in October and November if you are serious about what you’re doing.” 

Gonzalez, a small business owner from Jamaica Plan and a political veteran who previously ran for office on the local and state level, said that it’s always been an issue for both parties to appeal to the Latino community effectively.

“What are effective ways of connecting with Latinos? It’s very multifaceted,” he said. “Are you going to go to churches, and you’re going to be talking on talk radio, and you’re going to be on Telemundo or Univision? Are you going to be at a house speaking with abuelita?”

“All of these are touch points in which they can effectively reach Latinos, but you can’t do it so late because you’re not giving us an opportunity to get to know you as a candidate.”

Sanchez, who has worked with Gonzalez since the late ‘90s to promote Massachusetts Latino civic engagement, agrees. 

She said it’s crucial for candidates, if they want to appeal to Latino voters, to engage with community members, do their homework, and understand the diverse history of the community and key common issues they face in Massachusetts. 

“We’re always an afterthought,” she said. “The fact that we are still so ignored in some ways is very disheartening.”

Still, Sanchez remains hopeful and said that the recent increase in participation and Latinos running for office is exciting. 

“In many ways, we’ve arrived here in Massachusetts,” she said. 

“I think it’s the beginning of a lot of really good things to come.” 

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