Will Latinos Vote For Bernie?

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

By Duane Campbell

There has been a significant discussion of whether the Sanders campaign is sufficiently active in recruiting people of color.  Typically, writers make assertions about Black voters, and then go on to say “and Latino voters.”  Matt Bruenig at Demos reviews some of this in his June 3 blog post. Latinos make up about 8 % of the total national vote and are concentrated in several swing states. 

As socialists we need to be more critical and better informed than liberals on discussions of race.  Certainly if the vote is between Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump, the choices issues of black and Latino voters will be similar.  But, in the Democratic primaries between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, we need some more light shed upon how the two candidates differ.

On the positive side, there is the development of a growing center-left coalition in Latino communities  nationally which is in agreement with the progressive segment of the Democratic Party as a whole. This progressive wing of the party favor some type of real immigration reform and for being more inclusive to Latinos.

The ongoing racial policies and ethnic bashing by Trump and other elements of the GOP are  driving Latinos into the broader and more inclusive center-left coalition which includes the moderate Hillary Clinton.  This coalition in reality is strongly driven by the progressive and concrete political platform pushed by the campaign of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, but many likely primary voters of color are not fully aware of Sanders’ politics and program. The Sanders campaign – and local Sanders activists – have to make outreach to communities of color a major priority.

Certainly the Sanders campaign of progressive economic policies – education, jobs, opposing “free trade” – is seen as positive by a majority in the Latino community.

Several liberal pundits have done a poor job describing the issues concerning immigration.  Clinton and Sanders have almost identical positions on immigration; they are for comprehensive immigration reform, for the Dream Act, etc.  They have a difference on H-1B visas, which includes a major labor issue.

Bruenig, Joan Walsh and others created a misinterpretation of Latinos’ views on immigration by citing a 2014 Gallup poll which seemed to say that immigration was not an important issue in the Latino community.  

The Gallup poll asked, “ What issues do you see as important to you ? Only 12% of Latinos polled said they found immigration as an important issue.  The Pew Research Center conducted a similar poll after the 2014 election.  They asked about pressing national priorities.  Only 16% of Latinos ranked illegal immigration as important.   Many liberals then jumped to the conclusion that immigration was not a critical issue. But  these polls asked voters to cite “the one most important issue” to them.  They do not allow voters to list several top priorities – and this method has been widely criticized by social scientists as providing a misleading view of the priorities of a constituency.

However, when PEW and others asked, “Is passing new immigration reform important issue to you?”  then 66% of Latinos found it important.

See the difference?

Is immigration a pressing issue? (Gallup, Pew)  This could include illegal immigration.

Is immigration policy an important issue? (Pew)

Latinos prioritize a pathway to citizenship, not the border enforcement implicitly raised in the Gallup poll question.

To further understand the relative importance of immigration issues in the Latino communities, you need to know some basics.

Cubans by and large do not have an immigration problem. They have been allowed to come to the U.S. as asylum seekers and refugees with few limits on their immigration.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and thus do not have an immigration problem.

Immigration is a very important issue in the Mexican American and Central American communities, but not in areas with large numbers of Cuban Americans, and Puerto Rican such as Florida.  Mexican Americans make up 64% of the total Latino population

The Sanders campaign platform of free higher education, jobs, civil rights, and an end to police brutality will work well in the Mexican American and immigrant communities – but most recent  immigrants can’t vote. Both Gallup and Pew polls show that Latinos are concerned with education and the economy.

Sanders supporters will need an organized outreach campaign to Latinos. Sanders made a good first step in speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) convention in Las Vegas on  June 17, 2015 and the National Council of La Raza annual convention on July 13.

But Clinton is already far ahead on outreach to the Latino communities.  Clinton has some distinct advantages.  She has a well-established, well-funded campaign organization. Democratic voters are concentrated among women, and Latinas (female) vote at a much higher percentage than Latinos (men), by 66% to 32%.   This is higher than the female-male gap in the general population.

As an example, DSA Honorary Chair Dolores Huerta was co-chair of the Latino Outreach effort for Hillary in 2008. Huerta has been active in the Democratic Party since the Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern campaigns. 

Generations of Latinas have built their own empowerment agenda within the Democratic Party around candidates such as Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton.  It would be a serious error to underestimate their commitment to a Clinton victory. And, the Clintons have been close to the rising Latino leadership in the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton has extensive name recognition and networks to Latino voters that will prove useful. Those who have worked campaigns know that while policy positions are important, so are personal relationships in building campaign organizations.

It would be shortsighted to not recognize the gender differences in this contest among the Democratic Party coalition members. We will not contribute to building a progressive coalition by highlighting issues that divide one generation of feminists against another generation.  Rather, our campaigns should be respectful and inclusive while recognizing different viewpoints (not dismissing them).  BTW, these kinds of divisions are best worked out within the community, not by preaching from the outside.

On the other hand, Raul Grijalva, chair of the Progressive Caucus, might be open to backing Bernie.  Bernie helped to establish the Progressive Caucus when he was in the House and the two share numerous policy positions.

For Bernie to win the important Latino vote will take much more than saying “Blacks will vote for Bernie, and Latinos also.”  The two often go together, but not always. See for example the recent election of Rahm Emanuel in Chicago over Chuy Garcia.

As a DSA activist and leader, I was active in the 1988 DSA campaign for Jesse Jackson in Sacramento, forming Labor for Jackson.  In the early stages of the campaign, progressives organized in the black community and assumed that Latinos would follow.  They did not.  By the time the campaign got to California (May), the campaign workers recognized their problems and organized a substantial Latino effort co-chaired by my friend Bert Corona, a long time left activist.  Organizing a campaign requires time, volunteers, and resources.

The campaign had to build an outreach to Latino voters based upon social justice issues inclusive of Latino concerns.  With an organized campaign, Latinos voted 66% for Jackson in California over the remaining candidates.  Such outreach efforts must begin now on the part of both the national Sanders campaign and the local progressive activists working at the base for Sanders (often without any relationship to the official campaign). Absent these activists engaging in honest dialogue with progressive activists in the Latino (and African-American)_communities the Sanders campaign will have no chance to overcome the structural advantage Secretary Clinton has in reaching these communities.

Latino voting is usually mobilized by two large institutional efforts –churches and organized labor.  Latino leadership on all levels of union participation has grown enormously since the 1988 campaign.  Now – unlike 1988 – significant labor institutional sources are more available.  

In summary, my view is that the Sanders campaign can have an educational and mobilizing effort in many Latino communities, but it will require thoughtful and focused outreach, discipline, respect for differences, and the hard work of organizing. By the way, a majority of white males never did vote either for Jackson or for Barack Obama. We should be somewhat reticent to lecture others on how they should organize or vote.

The next question is: how can DSA through the Sanders campaign build ongoing structural relationships with the left opinion holders and activists in the Latino communities.  A starting place would be to have outreach materials in Spanish and English.  We used bilingual materials well for our DSA campaign against California Proposition 209 (anti-affirmative action) and proposition 227 (anti-bilingual education).  We cannot assume that Latino Democratic primary voters will flock to Bernie just because he is progressive on economic justice issues.

Duane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist for over 40 years, and former chair of Sacramento DSA. He is the co-chair of the Mexican American Digital History project. He blogs on politics, education and labor at www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com and www.talkingunion.wordpress.com.


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