Latino voter surge holds lessons for 2020

Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke celebrates his primary win

Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke celebrates his primary win earlier this year. While Latino turnout was high, it wasn’t enough to carry candidates like him to victory. (Courtesy image by Beto O’Rourke for Congress Committee )

By Lisa Garcia Bedolla 

Latino turnout surged in the midterms, early signs show.

There are 27.3 million eligible Latino voters in the United States,  according to the Pew Research Center - 12 percent of the electorate. Historically, most haven’t voted. In the 2014 midterm election, just  27 percent of eligible Latinos cast ballots , compared to 43 percent of eligible white voters.

These midterms looked different.

Final data from the 2018 election won’t be available for months, but absentee and early voting tallies - along with exit polls and  Spanish language Google searches on polling locations - suggest that Latinos voted in record numbers on Tuesday.

There was a nearly 120 percent increase in absentee and early ballots cast by Latinos compared with 2014,  according to my analysis of data from Catalist , an electoral research firm. Seventy-six percent of those requests came from "strong Democrats."

More Election 2018

Robert Reich: America has rejected Trumpism

Yet  Democrats’ hopes  that Latinos rejecting President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies would trigger a blue tsunami were dashed in Texas and Florida. Both states have large Latino populations and high-visibility candidates whose campaigns  targeted  and  excited Latino voters  with progressive agendas for tackling inequality.

Why couldn’t Latinos hand wins to Democrats Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Andrew Gillum of Florida?

I study  Latino civic engagement. In my assessment, congressional redistricting intended to  suppress minority votes  and  high Republican turnout  were the primary reasons - not low Latino support.

In Texas, Latinos requested 365 percent more early and absentee ballots than in 2014, Catalist data show. Florida saw a 129 percent increase. In contrast, in California - which this year had  a handful of highly competitive congressional races  but no competitive statewide races - early and absentee ballots requested by Latinos still were up almost 50 percent over 2014.

Those numbers show that when candidates and campaigns engage Latinos and focus on the issues they care about, Latinos will show up at the polls - an opportunity Democrats and Republicans alike  missed  in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

In Texas and Florida, as in other Republican strongholds with large Latino populations, Democrats competed in highly  gerrymandered   districts , and Trump’s  anti-immigrant appeals  mobilized his base.

The result was  increased participation  in both parties. That helps explain the narrow losses of O’Rourke and Gillum.

The midterms were not a Latino tsunami. But they hold important lessons for the 2020 election.

Lisa Garcia Bedolla is the chancellor’s professor of education and political science at UC Berkeley. This post was originally published in “The Conversation ,” a site that brings brings evidence-based news to the public.