The campaign to win them over this week is a big opportunity for candidates to show how much they prioritize the concerns of Latino voters, said Paulo Sibaja, author of “Can We Call Them Mexican? An Easy Guide to Understanding and Marketing to U.S. Latinos.”
“One of the most critical components and one of the most essential and basic things that a candidate has to do with the Hispanic community is they cannot just parachute in and stop moving forward once Nevada comes around and is over,” said Sibaja, who worked in Republican politics for nearly a decade. “If Latinos don’t know you, we are a very guarded people. If some random stranger is trying to sell us something, we’re going to be very ambivalent about it. If we see you time and time again because you’ve come and said ‘Hello,’ we’ll be able to soften our hearts and open our minds to give you the ultimate gift: our vote.”
This is certainly the hope of Biden, the candidate who is possibly the best-known in the Latino community out of the current Democratic field. And he’s hoping that his high polling numbers with Latino voters give him better results than New Hampshire and Iowa.
“We’re moving into an especially important phase because up until now, we haven’t heard from the most committed constituency of the Democratic Party — the African American community — and the fastest-growing segment of the society — the Latino community,” Biden said at a rally last week. “So when you hear all the pundits and experts and cable TV talkers talk about the race, tell them, ‘It ain’t over, man. We’re just getting started.’”
And he’s right. Biden, who had a clear lead with Latino voters in national polls last fall, is polling very well with Latino voters in Nevada. But a new poll shows that he is in a virtual tie with Sanders, who won the first two contests.
Biden is polling at 34 percent, while Sanders is at 31 percent with Latino voters in the latest Telemundo “State of the Latino Vote in Nevada” survey. The survey was conducted from Feb. 10 to Feb. 12, 2020.
In the fall, multiple polls had Biden with a clear lead over Sanders. That lead could have been due to the more moderate politics of some Latino voters as well as his name recognition from being the No. 2 to President Barack Obama. But Sanders’s investment in Nevada, other candidates’ departures from the race and his recent wins in other contests could have increased his popularity in the state.
“The fact that Biden remains neck and neck in a poll out of Nevada is actually a testament to the loyalty of Hispanics,” Sibaja added. “You see other polls where Bernie Sanders is just running away with it, but Biden has been able to remain competitive because he is a familiar name to the U.S. Latino population.”
But when asked which candidate has paid the most attention to issues affecting the Latino community, Sanders is the clear Democratic winner, receiving 28 percent of the vote. But second is Trump at 22 percent. The Democratic candidate receiving the most support after Sanders is Biden, at 17 percent.
Voto Latino, an organization that helps get young Latinos engaged in the political process, has been in Nevada focused on increasing political engagement among young Latino voters. But in addition to helping young Latinos get registered, Voto Latino is calling on candidates to prioritize the Latino community in their outreach efforts. According to the organization, 48 percent of Latino voters reported not being contacted by a political party or campaign during the 2018 midterms.
“We hear a lot of lip service paid every year during the election cycle: This is the year that the Latinx will come out and make a difference in the election,” said Danny Turkel, a spokesperson for the organization. “But once the election is over, we’re basically ignored by the establishment, so it’s a little bit of a paradox. On one hand we’re ignored, on another, they don’t really provide us with anything when it’s time to govern.”
As many are paying attention to South Carolina to gauge how black voters will vote moving forward, Nevada could give an indication of where Latino voters are leaning in 2020 ahead of Super Tuesday, when several states with large Latino populations will have the chance to vote. But as much as pundits are watching Latino voters to understand their preferences, members of the Latino community will be eyeing presidential candidates to see whether their engagement with Latino voters will be more significant than in previous elections.