Politics

Could the Latino vote make Texas more blue?

While the traditionally red state may not go Democrat this year, Latino voters could have a bigger impact as one poll shows the presidential candidates in a dead heat.
6 Sep 2016 – 4:10 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a technical dead heat in Texas, with Clinton leading by one point, shows a Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll of registered voters released Tuesday. The traditionally Republican state - where President Barack Obama lost by 16 points in 2012 - could become more blue this year, thanks in part to the state's growing Hispanic voter bloc.

Texas has the second-largest Hispanic population in the U.S. with 4.8 million eligible Latino voters, according to the Pew Research Center. And that number stands to grow: by 2020, Latinos will outnumber whites in the state, according to the Office of the State Demographer.

During the Texas primaries in March, Clinton and Ted Cruz won the Latino vote, with 71 percent for Clinton and 35 percent for Cruz. Trump came in third among Republicans with 26 percent. A July Univision poll found that nationwide, 67 percent of registered Latino voters plan support Clinton versus 19 percent for Trump.

About 30 percent of Texas voters are Latino, of which the vast majority are of Mexican descent. According to the Post, Trump is performing worse among the state's Hispanics and whites than Senator John McCain in 2008.

"Parties’ political success will be determined by which one best embraces the demographic changes occurring," warned a San Antonio Express-News editorial in May.

Among Texas voters, immigration and border security are the top two issues, polls show. With his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump may have helped spur a bump in naturalizations: in 2015, the number of new citizens grew 25 percent in Texas compared to 12 percent nationally.

Lydia Camarillo, vice president of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the largest nonprofit Latino voter registration organization in the U.S., estimates that in November, between 22 and 24 percent of Texas voters will be Latino. "When it starts being over 20 percent, Latinos can decide the elections," she said. Still, it's a "very long shot" that Texas goes blue this year, she added.

However, less than half of Texas Latinos are eligible to vote, compared to 79 percent of whites in the state. Another issue is voter turnout: in 2012, only 39 percent of the state's Latino eligible voters cast ballots.

Hispanic voters could also face trouble at the polls, since Texas is one of 15 states that will have new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 election. Even though the state agreed to loosen voter ID requirements, voters there must still bring proof of their name and address.

"Texas would be as competitive as Florida in statewide elections if this untapped electorate voted," says a 2014 report by pollster Latino Decisions, which currently works for the Clinton campaign.

One issue is that Latino voters tend to be a lot younger. "It doesn't mean you don't care … they're a very, very savvy electorate," said Camarillo. "Except they're paying attention much later on in the elections." In Texas, that's a problem since registration ends Oct. 11, unlike in some other states which allow same-day registration.

Another issue is that campaigns spend very few resources on Latino voters, said Camarillo. In the last presidential election, Latino voters in Texas were the most undermobilized in the country, Latino Decisions found. Only a quarter of Hispanic voters in the state said campaigns or organizations contacted them encouraging them to vote.

"[Political parties] continue to go to likely voters and have created this vicious cycle in which Latino voters are not engaged and don't turn out and vote," said Carlos Duarte, Texas state director of Latino advocacy group Mi Familia Vota. At the same time, he's seen a lot of excitement leading up to the election, with some voters coming to the group to register rather than the other way around.

"I think that the Latino vote is going to be crucial in determining who wins presidential election in the state of Texas," said Duarte. "It will come down to who shows up."


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