Latinas Are Showing Up for Political Change. Now What?

woman holds up a sign that says VOTE at a protest

This article is part of a series sponsored by and developed in partnership with AltaMed Health Services. AltaMed is on a mission to eliminate disparities in healthcare access and outcomes by providing superior quality health and human services through an integrated delivery system for Latino, multi-ethnic and often-overlooked communities in Southern California.

An increasing body of research is further validating that Latinas are a growing political force. A comprehensive 2018 study by UnidosUs of Latina voting turnout in the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterms reported that Latinas have an outsized impact on the overall Latino electorate in the U.S.

Despite there being fewer Latinas than Latinos because Latinas vote in larger numbers than their male counterparts, they end up being a larger share of voters, thus driving the growth and electoral influence of the Latino community’s influence in U.S. politics. This impact is happening at both the state and congressional district levels.

At the same time, however, the report notes that Latinas remain underrepresented within the U.S. women’s vote as a whole. Large disparities in voter turnout rates continue to exist between Latinas and White non-Latinas, which isn’t surprising when a majority of all Latino registered voters continue to report low levels of outreach and mobilization from campaigns and candidates, and Latinas receive less outreach than Latino men.

The UnidosUs report goes on to say that just one month before the 2018 general election, 62% of Latina registered voters, compared to 54% of registered Latino men, reported they were not asked to register or vote by any organization, including campaigns and candidates.

What Can Change?

While Latina and Latino voters have the potential to be an outsized influence on the U.S. political landscape, the community continues to need more investment of both time and funds in order to effectively activate their civic participation.

Data-driven and successful voter outreach campaigns like the My Vote. My Health. campaign, are moving the needle in the communities that have often been under-invested in by candidate or issue-based campaigns. And you may be surprised to know that this innovative engagement model targeting Latino/a communities is run by AltaMed Health Services, the largest federally qualified health center, providing services to more than 400,000 individuals in the State of California.

During the 2022 midterm elections, Altamed chose to make Latinas over 75% of their target voters for direct community contact, which paid off in a statistically meaningful way. An internal, post-election analysis found that after their campaign personally connected with individual community members, Latinas voted at a 6% higher rate than Latinos: 53% to 47%, respectively.

Given what is known about the positive outcomes of direct community outreach, the results of AltaMed’s linguistically and culturally-relevant campaign aren’t surprising. But increasing voter turnout isn’t the only positive result when organizations, candidates, and political parties invest appropriately in Latina voters. The learnings, sometimes even anecdotally, allow for even more effective campaigns to be created in the future and breaks the negative cycle that inaccurately creates pressure for the Latino community to “win” elections for certain political parties, despite the history of little time and money invested in reaching them.

It’s known that outreach and voter education is effective in turning out voters. Organizations regularly educate and inform Latinas about the political process and the importance of voting through community and digital events, workshops, and door-to-door outreach. It’s through these mobilization efforts that activities like active partnerships with community groups, faith-based organizations, and local businesses prove to be effective.

Deep canvassing,” is a form of door-to-door outreach where the door-knocker engages in long, empathic conversations to help shift someone's knowledge and opinions. The data that’s emerging on this voter outreach technique indicates that it’s more effective at increasing voter turn-out, but data is yet to emerge on why this works specifically for Latino voters. Analysis of the effectiveness for other communities, such as rural communities, can be found. But analysis for Latino voters continues to be mostly anecdotal.

Lizette Escobedo, Associate Vice President of Civic Engagement & Advocacy at AltaMed, along with other strategists on her team, note that some of the reasons deep canvassing works well in engaging Latino–and specifically Latina–voters, are cultural differences. During AltaMed’s 2022 My Vote. My Health. midterm elections voter outreach campaign, their outreach volunteers reported a deeper sense of gratitude and hospitality from Latino and Latina voter households they were connecting with, to such a point that during AltaMed’s door knocker training, they instructed their volunteers not to accept cafecito invitations into the home, in an effort to use their time efficiently and engage more voters.

Cultural competency and language fluency also played a role. While mainstream media categorizes all Latinos into one giant group, people with cultural competency understand that cultural norms and practices often vary depending on the Latin-American country of origin. While 80% of Los Angeles Latinos are of Mexican descent, AltaMed’s campaign wasn’t a “Mexican” campaign. It was understood that simply not assuming a voter identified as Mexican or Mexican-American already demonstrated a deep respect for the uniqueness of voters as individuals and contributed to the notion of the person as feeling “seen.”

How to Keep the Newly Engaged, Engaged

In order to avoid the dreaded “boom and bust” cycle where Latinos get appropriate outreach, turnout to vote, and then get largely ignored again, it’s also imperative to learn how to sustain engagement during times when elections aren’t looming, and outreach budgets are often limited or non-existent. This is where thinking outside the box by organizations where political work isn’t their main delivery of service can be immensely useful.

As a healthcare leader, AltaMed understands that civic engagement is a factor that impacts the health of individuals, families, and communities, known as the social determinants of health. While many other organizations may also understand this, they may not understand how to scale and sustain their civic engagement efforts or even begin them if they haven’t already. AltaMed points to its Integrated civic engagement model as an example of why healthcare leaders and providers can play a bigger role in elections, and how they can do it effectively.

The model includes activities like provider canvassing opportunities where doctors in their white coats take time to engage households and connect their individual health outcomes to elections; hosting vote centers at clinic sites; voter education messaging in collaboration with Vot-ER; and training staff to speak directly with patients about the importance of voting. It’s important to note that this outreach work is slow and steady.

After decades of underinvestment, Latinos can’t be expected to become regular and reliable voters overnight. But leaning into learnings like targeted investment in Latinas, use of deep canvassing methods, and ensuring cultural and language competency in election volunteers, staff, and strategists is a sure-fire long-term approach to further empowering a community that slowly but surely, is exercising its political power.

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