Interview
"If the parties do not try to mobilize the young Hispanic vote, there is no way to win an election"
Héctor De León is a campaign specialist. He was an official in Harris County and worked for NALEO. In dialogue with LPO, he explains what the Democrats should do to win Texas.

Héctor de León is an Election Data Analyst who was born in Mexico and knows everything of the political dispute in Texas. His gaze is focused on voters and how the strategies - right or wrong - designed by Republicans and Democrats can lead to winning or losing an election. De León has worked as a senior election official at the Harris County elections office, the third in the country, for 16 years. Before that, and during more than a decade, he led the Texas office of the NALEO Educational Fund, the nation's leading non-profit, non-partisan civic organization facilitating full Latino participation in the American political process. He runs his own website, where he publishes statistics and data on registered voters and voter turnout. The main motto says a lot about his thinking: "perspective is everything."

There is a narrative that is renewed each election cycle according to which Democrats would not win Texas on these election because Hispanics do not vote. Why don't you agree?

That way of seeing things is wrong. When the conclusion is that Hispanics do not vote, we speak of the census numbers, and not of the voters. For example, in the case of Harris County, the third largest in the United States, Hispanics represent 44 or 45% of the total population. But when you talk about the percentage of citizens eligible to vote, which would be US citizens over 18, these people represent not more than 31%.

Looking at the last names of registered voters, 1 in 4 people is Hispanic. If we divide 25% by 31% we get that 80% of Hispanics eligible to vote are registered. But everything depends on what your political perspective is. When I conducted the study of the vote in 2016, here in Harris County, I found that Hispanics who vote continue to grow in presidential elections. And at that time, the media kept saying that Hispanics did not vote. How can they say that when in Harris County the Hispanic voter turnout grew between 2012 and 2016 from 49% to 53%? And then, between 2016 and 2020 it went from 53% to 59%. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that they did not vote. Hispanics vote when parties provide candidates who motivate them and give them reasons to vote.

It is common for the media to say that Hispanics do not vote. How can they say that when in Harris County the Hispanic voter turnout grew from 49% in 2012 to 59% in 2020? Hispanics vote when parties provide them candidates who motivate them and give them reasons to vote.

Would Hispanics necessarily vote for the Democratic Party?

Not necessarily. That is another myth. The Democratic Party, when aiming at the Hispanic community, draws a parallel with the African-American community. Historically, the African-American community has been chased, harmed and even murdered in the United States. Since the 60s or 70s, 90% of African-American vote for the Democratic Party. When Obama won for President, it was 97%. With Hillary Clinton, the percentage went down, but it still was 90%.

According to Edison Research, the company that conducts exit polls for media such as ABC, CNN and CBS on Election Day, in the 2020 presidential election 60% of Hispanics in Texas voted for the Democratic Party, and 38% for the Republican Party. For their part, between 70 and 74% of Anglo-Saxons vote for Republicans, and 90% or more of Afro-Americans vote for Democrats. So the Democrats cannot win and the Republicans are still the majority of voters in Texas, because Hispanics do not vote for Democrats at the same level as Anglos do for Republicans or African-American for Democrats.

If Democrats want to win in Texas, they have to share a message that motivates Hispanics to vote for them in higher percentages. And that is not happening. That is the reason why Democrats are not winning in Texas, and it is not because Latinos do not vote, but because despite voting, they do not do it in a way that is significantly marked by them. Hispanics who vote are a lot compared to other ethnic groups, but they do not systematically vote for one party.

"If the parties do not try to mobilize the young Hispanic vote, there is no way to win an election"

What kind of messages do politicians use to attract Hispanic voters?

They try to convince them to go vote with the same messages they share with the African-American community. But those messages do not permeate through the Hispanic community. The Hispanic people are immigrants and they do not know the history of prejudice against Hispanics that gave rise to Texas, the southwestern United States, and even California. Many of them are immigrants, or children of immigrants, and have the idea of realizing "the American dream". A message for historically oppressed people works for African-Americans, but not for the people who have just arrived, or belong to a second generation. We would have to give them another message. In turn, the Hispanic people are not homogeneous, and vary greatly in their preferences depending on whether they are Mexican, South American, Caribbean  or Central American, and how long they have been in the United States. To attract more Hispanic, a different narrative is needed, and the Democratic Party is failing at it.

Did anything change in the 2018 Senate election, when Beto O'Rourke was the Democratic candidate and lost by 2,6%?

Beto mobilized many voters, especially younger ones. His message caught on very well, mostly among liberal, democratic and progressive voters. More people turned out to vote in those elections. For example, 37% of young people between 18 and 24 years old voted, while in the previous mid-term election of 2014, only 12% (same age people) voted. It is important to understand that and be realistic: what is the number Democrats need to know if they succeeded or not? It does not necessarily have to be 50%. But it has to be more than 37%. The 37% that Beto got was a success for the Democrats at the county level, because they won Harris. Politics is about degrees of electoral participation. We are not talking about the Democrats having to encourage 50% of young people to vote, i.e. motivating them to participate more than when they have lost at the state level.

"Being Latino and being a Democrat in Texas does not mean being progressive"

Something interesting is coming up. On the one hand, the narrative that says that "Hispanics vote less than white people", and on the other, what you suggest, that "young people vote less than older people". However, Democrats blame Hispanics and not young people for not voting.

Exactly. One reason must be understood: in the electoral groups, 50% of Hispanics registered to vote are between 18 y 39 years old. In other words, if you are a young voter, it is very likely that you are Hispanic. Hispanics have the greatest voting potential because they are very young compared to other groups in Texas. So, we are talking about the same people who do not vote and blame themselves, the Democratic Party, for not winning. But the fact that they are young is not emphasized: the emphasis is on them being Hispanic Latinos.

Hispanic people are not homogeneous. They vary a lot in their preferences and uses, depending whether they are Mexicans, South Americans or Central Americans, and the time that they have been in the United States. To attract Hispanics, a different narrative is needed, and the Democratic Party is failing at it.

Why the emphasis is on their Hispanic condition?

Because we have seen that when there is an election, the campaigns try to get people who already vote, not to get new voters. So they do not spend money on the media in Spanish and focus only on what they already know. If you do not try to mobilize the Hispanic vote, there is no way to increase voters. The main reason for non-participation is that the messages are not connected with the voter. And I will explain it with an example. When a candidate talks to Anglo-Saxon voters, he introduces himself and says: "I need your help. I am going to take care of you and protect your wallet, your money, your income, because you work very hard and pay taxes to all levels of government. I know that they are millions and millions of dollars, I will make sure that these taxes are reflected in an effective way and that they benefit you." But when he speaks with Hispanics, he says: "I am going to fight to offer you this program, and this one." When talking to white voters, the message is that the voter has the power. On the contrary, when talking to Hispanics, it is as if the candidate has the power and is going to give them everything. He speaks different, they feel uncomfortable, but nobody is courageous to say: "Speak respectfully and ask us to vote for you. Do not tell us that you are going to give us this or that." Political parties need voters more than voters need the parties.

What other factors affect voter turnout?

We can see that in the districts where there are people with Hispanic names, with a high level of education and a high average income, these people go and vote, and they do it almost at the same percentage as white Anglos. Hispanics from wealthy neighborhoods vote at about 68%, while Anglos do it at 71%. Where they live, their level of education and economic income... these factors impact and make you vote. When you are doing well in life, you have money and education, you are more likely to vote.

In the 2016 presidential election in Harris County, the state representative district where the most Hispanics voted was number 134, which is a district that used to be progressive Republican and is now Democratic. The participation was high, 67%. Instead, the one with the worst participation was a district where the level of education and income are low. This last district was represented by a Hispanic Democrat. Again, what we can see is that education and economic income impact voting. That is why education is important. Sometimes partisan legislators focus a lot on electoral laws, laws that do not have the impact they imagine, instead of laws that help people to develop socioeconomically.

50% of Hispanics registered to vote are between 18 and 39 years old. In other words, if you are a young voter, it is very likely that you are Hispanic. Hispanics have the greatest power in voting, because they are very young compared to other groups. But the fact that they are young is not emphasized: the emphasis is on them being Hispanic Latinos.

Two recent election polls show Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate who emerged as a lawyer for a detained teenager who claimed the right to abortion during the Trump administration, on the rise. She is 2 points behind the Republican Ken Paxton. Is it the merit of the Democrats, is it the wear and tear of the ruling party or the changes in the demography of Texas?

In my experience, when a poll shows one candidate is beating another, you have to believe it. But when the polls show that a candidate is close or "almost" winning, you have to doubt it. Especially when the candidate affiliated with the party that always looses is not close to 50%. Many people say "I do not know who I am going to vote for", but they end up voting for the same old one. So, those two points of advantage that the Republicans have end up being 5 or 6 points or more. Surveys should always be viewed carefully. Because when they say "this candidate is losing by two points", and he/she has 40% of the votes and the other person has 42% of the votes, what matters is that he/she still has 9% or more to win an election. And where will those 9 to 10 points come from?

"If the parties do not try to mobilize the young Hispanic vote, there is no way to win an election"

Even so, and despite being slow, the number of votes for Democrats in Texas is improving.

But that has to do with the dynamics of each election. And that dynamic has to do with the circumstances. Since Donald Trump became president, the attention has been monopolized by extreme groups. And these extreme groups are the ones that always receive media attention in the elections. It does not matter if they are left or right. However, today there are voters who have always voted Republicans, and they observe the most extreme groups within their party and say "I am not like that," "I am not going to vote for them," but they are not going to say in the polls that they are going to vote for the others, because they are not yet decided. That indecision on Election day could give Democrats a chance.

Una latina empata con el candidato de Trump y apuesta a ganar en Texas por primera vez en tres décadas

In the case of the Texas attorney general election, the results of the survey are more connected with what is happening in their own parties than with the candidate. I am sure there are more people who do not know Rochelle Garza than there are. Something similar happened in 2018. Many people with a lot of energy went to vote. But I thought they wanted to express how they felt, that they did not agree with the presidency and the Trump administration. People used their votes to express their displeasure with that presidency.

When a candidate speaks to Anglo-Saxon voters, he introduces himself and says: "I need your help, you work very hard and pay taxes." But when he speaks to Hispanics, he says: "I am going to fight to give you this program." With the former, the message is that the voter has the power. With the latter, the candidate says that he has the power and is going to give them everything.

How do you see the dynamic in this gubernatorial race between O'Rourke and Abbott?

All the circumstances, the decisions dealing with abortion, the immigrants from San Antonio, the shooting in Uvalde, and all the other things that happened in the last ten years are adding up in this political dynamic. That the extremes on the right are making such an impact that voters may say "enough". Beto has a chance because he is seen as a reasonable candidate at the moment. People want reasonableness and stability.

Harris County Judge election appears to be hotly contested. The Republicans, with Alexandra Del Moral Melaer, are very close to the Democrat Lina Hidalgo, according to a survey by the University of Houston.

I think that Lina Hidalgo has been in the eye of the hurricane for a while and has been impacted. They hit her and she is still winning in the polls. It states the level, who are the groups of Harris County voters and the power of the Democratic voters. The election seems very close. This is good news for Judge Hidalgo, because after so many blows, she is still there and can win. In Harris County, it is very difficult for the Republicans to win because of the low number of Anglo whites in the electorate.

And that is the reason why the Republican Party appeals to a female candidate of Hispanic origin like Alexandra Del Moral Mealer?

Regardless of the outcome, the formula for Republicans who want to win a seat at the County level is that one. She has to be Hispanic and a woman, because if not (and there is a white man), he would lose to a Hispanic woman. I have no doubts. Today a white man in Harris County is impossible. This is a heavily Democratic county. There are not enough white people here. The only way for the Republicans to win is for them to receive Hispanic votes or for minorities no to vote.

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