The Latina/o/x Role in the 2016 Political Race

This week we feature Latina/o Studies scholars and writers Lisa Magaña, Christina Bejarano, and Daisy Hernández on the role of Latinas/os/x in today’s political climate and how the 2016 election will affect Latina/o/x lives.

Christina Bejarano, University of Kansas

Latinos play an increasingly important role in today’s political climate, both in terms of their increasing presence in the political environment and their growing voting power in the elections.  Latinos are a key voting bloc of swing voters that are courted by both political parties and they are forecasted to play a pivotal role in upcoming elections.  This particular election has brought a heightened sense of importance to the Latino vote.  However, this increased political attention comes with both negative and positive ramifications for Latinos. 

Word "vote" painted on fence

Photo by Flickr user H2Woah! Taken August 5, 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The current political climate provides several clear issues of importance for Latino communities, which can be an additional motivator for Latinos to participate this election.  Latinos are concerned about multiple issues including their top concerns on immigration reform, improving the economy, and creating more jobs, as well as providing quality education and health care.  This election has also emphasized the need to address mounting anti-Latino and anti-immigrant discrimination in the country, as well as police violence and inner city tensions.  Many Latinos acknowledge the negative repercussions of the Trump campaign, which has created a more hostile and divided racial climate in the U.S.  This campaign has included unprecedented verbal attacks on the Latino community, including Trump’s continued racial slurs against Mexicans/Latinos and Mike Pence’s dismissal of “that Mexican thing” during the debates.  Latinos report this campaign has resulted in more people being more openly angry and hostile to them.[1]

Additional negative ramifications this election include renewed attempts to suppress Latino voting power.  Latino voters may face a wide variety of problems at the polls including long lines/wait times, lack of Spanish language assistance and information available, problems with identification required to register or vote, issues with voter registration, and voter roll file errors.[2]   The problems include structural barriers such as strict voter identification laws in many states (including Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, and North Carolina), which disproportionately disenfranchise racial/ethnic minorities, the poor, and elderly among others. There are reported problems with the implementation of the strict voter ID laws, however many of them are still in effect for the 2016 election. In addition, Latinos may also fear possible voter intimidation at the polls, which may detract some from even attempting to vote this election.

In terms of some positive ramifications in the midst of the growing racial tensions this campaign, more Latinos have been galvanized to become more politically active. A novel example includes the use of taco trucks to register people to register to vote.  The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was inspired by a Trump Latino supporter to use “taco trucks on every corner” to mobilize Latinos to register to vote. The organization ‘Guac the Vote’ worked with chambers of commerce and business associations to double as voter registration centers.[3]

An additional positive ramification this election is the growing political attention towards the power of women voters, including Latinas.  In particular, Latinas are seen as a key driving force in Latino political influence.  Latinas are viewed as the key to mobilizing Latino families and communities.  Latinas exhibit significant gender differences in their political attitudes and behaviors, which is attracting more political attention. Latinas both register and vote at higher rates than Latino males, which follows the national trend of the modern women’s gender gap.[4]  Latinas and other women of color are also seen as a key voting bloc given their partisan gender gaps or greater levels of support for the Democratic Party. In the last two presidential elections, President Obama received a wide level of support from women, especially women of color.  Latinas and other women of color provided significantly more support for President Obama than white women and their male counterparts. As a result, this election included political organizations and the Clinton campaign utilizing Latina-specific campaign strategies to capitalize on the growing importance of the Latina vote. This election is likely to result in a bigger gender gap, especially given the sexist and hostile climate this campaign season highlighted by the public discussion on sexual assault and sexual harassment inspired by Trump’s comments and his repeated attacks on the Latina Miss Universe Alicia Machado.[5]

Overall, the results of this election will demonstrate the political impact of the Latino vote. We also need to consider the long-term ramifications of this hostile political campaign on Latino political empowerment in future elections.




[4] Bejarano, Christina. The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics. Routledge Press 2014.


Sign saying "vote here" in English, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.

Photo by Flickr user myJon. Taken November 8, 2005. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Daisy Hernández, Miami University

The Pissed-Off Latinx Voter

The presidential election has been framed around the image of the bitter white male voter, and so even as the number of these voters shrinks nationwide, they have remained at the center of the conversation. Media pundits have argued that they have to talk about these white men because of their voting power. After all, it was these white men— not Latinx voters (or women or queer voters)— who made a Trump run possible.

But is it true that bitter, broke white men created a Trump candidacy?

For months, media outlets gave Trump and his rallies free coverage. That was as true of Fox News as it was of MSNBC. One broadcast executive even boasted that Trump was great for business. The ratings were high and that meant increased revenue. The first presidential debate between Clinton and Trump garnered the highest ratings of all televised debates in history. Read: more money for the networks.

In other words, it was a group of well-off white men—not pobre, pissed ones—that made a Trump candidacy happen. These media executives made it possible for Trump to be in front of voters constantly with his message of a country in need of being rescued from Mexicans, Muslims, and women reporters.

Consider what are now being called the new swing states. Georgia might be up for grabs for the Democrats. And North Carolina and even Arizona. If bitter, white men were moving this election so much, where are they now? The leaked Access Hollywood video might have upset moderate white mujeres, but they were not the ones at his rallies. The legions of angry white men are not materializing now because, in a way, they don’t actually exist outside of Trump events.

As Dave Boyer wrote in the conservative Washington Times this week: “The growing Latino population’s alignment with Democrats, and the dwindling share of white voters, is one of the biggest challenges facing the Republican Party.” The famed journalist Jorge Ramos put it another way in an interview with the Daily Beast recently: “The new rule in American politics is you cannot make it to the White House without the Latino vote.”

So, who is turning out to vote? Tune to television coverage of early voting in North Carolina and who you see lining up are women, Latinx, African Americans, and queers— the groups that the media has dismissed for the last year. They are the ones showing up to vote.

More importantly, these are the voters who will keep coming for future decades. We now have 4 million more Latinx voters than four years ago, and almost half of those voters are millennials. In Arizona alone, the number of Latinx voters has almost doubled in the last 10 years. And Nevada might be sending the country’s first Latina to the Senate. A CBS affiliate poll has former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto ahead of her Republican rival in Nevada by a few points.

I worked in media for a decade so I know that news outlets will continue to put angry white men at the center of the conversation for years to come. They’ll do it for their bottom line because hate and fear sell well and that is only about to intensify in a country where the majority of kindergarteners in public schools are already kids of color. It’s a country where more and more Americans have my story to tell: Twenty years ago, I was the only Latina in my college classes. Today, William Paterson University in New Jersey is officially a Hispanic Serving Institution.

The ones to watch out for in this election as in the future then are the ones growing in numbers: the pissed off Latinx voters, the nasty women, and the ignored but equally angry LGBT voters.

Lisa Magaña, Arizona State University 

According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center, there are 27.3 million eligible Latino voters that can participate in the 2016 election, making up 12% of all eligible voters.  Latinos are predicted to be a growing formidable political force because according to Demographer, Mark Hugo Lopez, from the Pew Hispanic Research Center, there are approximately 1 million Latinos who turn 18 every year, becoming eligible to vote.

In Arizona, Latinos have been politically galvanized by the anti-immigrant movement that characterized state politics the last decade and a half. Anti-immigrant policies, such as SB 1070, mobilized Latinos into a remarkable political force. There has been a real political backlash by non-traditional political players, such as non-citizens, students, small church congregations and grass roots organizations, as well as by traditional players, such as political parties and get-out-the-vote organizations. A new generation of young Latino activists, politicians, and entrepreneurs have emerged in this recent period, and organizations established to protect the rights of immigrants have grown.

During the recent elections, Dreamers, young individuals hoping to get legalized status because they were brought to the United States as infants and children, campaigned and asked voting constituents to support only elected officials that backed comprehensive immigration reform. They continue to be vital activists that oppose anti-immigration agendas.

Alto (STOP) Arizona protestors in front of Supreme Court

Photo by Flickr user Mexicanos Sin Fronteras Taken April 24, 2012 CC BY 2.0

Some immigrant advocacy groups in Arizona have shifted their strategies to increase registration of Latino voters.   Numerous surveys illustrate that Latino registered voters frustrated with anti-immigrant rhetoric are voting to oppose measures as well as candidates perceived to be anti-Latino. Executive Director, Tomas Robles, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), estimates that 150,000 Arizonians registered to vote for this upcoming election. Although too early to tell, he believes many of these individuals were newly registered Latinos. He also witnessed a surge in the number of Latinos that are changing their status from legal permanent resident to naturalized citizen in order to vote in the upcoming election.

The changing demographics, citizenship status, as well as the ever-evolving forces and events that galvanize Latinos means that for the first time since 1992, Arizona voters might elect a Democrat in the upcoming presidential election. Three weeks before the election, the Democratic party sent three major surrogates for the Clinton Campaign, including Chelsea Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Michelle Obama all in one week.

The demographic and political shift may also influence the outcome of other elections, such as the senate and congress.  Interestingly, it may also lead to the defeat of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial head of the Maricopa County Sheriff Office (MSCO) whose popularity soared in Arizona as he became tough, almost draconian, on immigration. The Sheriff was recently found to be unlawfully carrying out immigration activities, racially profiling, and knowingly being in contempt of court rulings.

When SB 1070 was signed in (2010), there were numerous economic boycotts of the state resulting in the loss of billions of dollars. Simply put, the state lost money because of the message that it sent regarding Latinos and immigrants. In terms of Arizona and Latino Politics, economic boycotts are an important dimension. For instance, in 2014, the legislature introduced a bill that would allow businesses to deny service if they felt the customer violated their moral or religious conscious.  After SB 1062 passed through the Senate and was sent to the Governor to sign, national and international attention was once again focused on Arizona. This time, however, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce was quick to point out that bad publicity or that the state was intolerant was bad for business. The governor ultimately did not sign it.

This may be a pivotal moment in Arizona, when it comes to Latinos and Politics. No matter the outcome of the election, it is clear that Latinos are being courted and targeted like never before.

Christina E. Bejarano (Ph.D. University of Iowa) is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. She is the author of The Latina Advantage: Gender, Race, and Political Success (2013) and The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics (2014). Her research/teaching interests are in gender, race/ethnicity, and political behavior in the United States. She is particularly interested in studying the ways in which racial/ethnic minorities and women can influence the current electoral environment and the conditions under which they can successfully compete for U.S. electoral office.

Daisy Hernández is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at Miami University in Ohio. She’s the author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir and co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. The former editor of ColorLines magazine, she has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, and NPR’s All Things Considered and CodeSwitch. To see more of her work, visit

Lisa Magaña is an Associate Professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. She has published in the area of immigration and Latino public policy issues. She is the author of the books, Straddling the Border (University of Texas Press) and The Politics of Diversity (University of Arizona Press) and Arizona, Immigration and Latinos & Politics (Kendall Hunt Press).  She recently co-edited the book Latino Politics and Arizona’s Immigration Law SB 1070 (Springer Press) and currently completing another manuscript: From A to Z: How Arizona Redefined Latino Politics.  She is published numerous chapters and book articles on immigration and Latino Politics. She has also been on interviewed ABC, AOL News, BBC, CNN, Fox News, Galavisión,  MSNBC, NPR and Telemundo and cited in the Associated Press, Arizona Republic, La Voz, Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones and Tucson Daily, to name but a few.  

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