With the midterm election two months away, Latino voters could play a large role in the outcome

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Posted at 6:09 PM, Sep 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-15 20:09:57-04

THORNTON, Colo.  — Door by door, house by house, volunteers with the group Libre Initiative Action have spent weeks walking through Adams County and getting to know voters in the area.

Its focus is on unaffiliated Hispanic voters, in particular, and hearing what their priorities and concerns are before the midterm elections.

“I think there's a lot of frustration and a lot of mixed emotions about who should I vote for,” said Angel Merlos, the strategic director for Libre Initiarive Action.

This group is supporting Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer to represent the new Colorado Congressional District 8.

“We're having those conversations to persuade people to vote for somebody who's a policy champion and is going to be able to address the issues that matter most of them,” said Merlos.

Across town in a Democratic field office, a group of volunteers sits around a table, calling voters in the new district and encouraging them to learn more about their candidate, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo.

On a whiteboard nearby, there’s a tally of all the doors they have knocked on as they work to engage voters.

“Yadira is someone who has lived their experience, that understands what it's like to have a large family and to have those family celebrations,” said Alvina Vasquez, founder of PowerMap.

The new congressional district represents parts of Adams, Larimer and Weld counties. It also features the highest proportion of Hispanic and Latino residents at nearly 40%. Because of this, the new district could serve as a litmus test for how candidates engage these communities.

“The new district could become a bellwether of what Latino issues are important in Colorado and in the country,” said Jesse Acevedo, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver.

Now, three new polls are painting a clearer picture of the issues Colorado Latino communities care about the most.

The three polls were conducted by the ACLU of Colorado, UnidosUS/ Mi Familia Vota and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). All three show the top priority for Hispanic voters going into the midterm elections is inflation and the economy.

The poll conducted by UnidosUS found that of the 2,750 eligible voters it surveyed, inflation and the rising cost of living was a top priority. The economy ranked the third on this survey behind crime and gun violence as a priority.

The ACLU of Colorado poll, meanwhile, surveyed 1,223 adults and found inflation was the number one issue among all demographics it surveyed, followed by affordable housing, mass shootings/gun violence and affordable housing.

The 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda, which was conducted by COLOR, surveyed 1,504 registered voters and found inflation was the most important issue, followed by the economy and improving wages.

“These families are having the same issues that any voter has, but they're affecting them in different ways,” Vasquez said. “I also think Latinos see themselves as driving the economy. So our candidates need to talk to them about how important they feel to the success of the country.”

In at least two of the polls, abortion rights were also major issues for Hispanic voters in the state.

For candidates, this population could serve as a major opportunity to influence the outcome of elections in the state. According to 2020 U.S. Census data, nearly 22% of residents in the state identify themselves as Hispanic.

Unlike the rest of the population, young Latinos tend to turn out in higher numbers for elections and often encourage older generations to participate as well. However, midterm elections, historically, have lower voter turnout across the board than presidential contests.

For Acevedo, the key for candidates to get Latinos to cast a ballot this year could depend on how much time they spend in the community.

“One of the biggest determinants of Latino turnout is whether they were given a visit by someone from the party or from a campaign,” Acevedo said.

That’s part of the reason Republicans recently announced the opening of a Hispanic outreach office in Thornton, while Democrats opened more field offices in the area.

Vasquez believes CD8 could serve as a training and testing ground for campaigns to learn how to effectively communicate and engage with Hispanic voters over long periods of time.

However, while there is additional attention to these communities during election years, Latino groups say that often fades away once the votes are cast and the candidates no longer need the community to win their election.

“Latinos, you know, tend to be overlooked by both political parties,” said Salvador Hernandez, the Colorado state director of Mi Familia Vota. “When it's campaign season, they're always, like, out there in the community, showing up to events, hosting town halls. But we do see a little bit of a decline post-election.”

Mi Familia Vota is a nonpartisan group focused on getting Hispanic residents to register to vote so that their voices aren’t overlooked in any given election.

Another issue candidates will have to contend with when it comes to this demographic is understanding that the Latino population is not a monolith and doesn’t vote as one group. For many, it depends on their age, whether they are first-generation Americans or have generations of family living here, their economic status, where their family originates, their religious background and more.

“We're all unique. We have, we have different issues that we care about. We have different experiences, we come from different backgrounds,” Merlos said.

The more candidates can begin to understand the differences between these communities and their individual needs, the better off they could be at election time, the voter outreach groups say.

With their population number growing, Hispanic voters will play an increasingly important role in the outcome of future elections. First, though, they have to show up to vote.

“If Latinos show up in huge numbers to this upcoming midterm election, expect members of Congress and senators to really listen to this community, not just for the upcoming presidential election in 2024, but also 2026,” Acevedo said.