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Politics & Government

Tuesday's Primaries May Give A Sense Of How Latinos Will Vote In November

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Two states holding primaries today, California and New Mexico, might give us a sense of how the Latino vote is going to play out in the November election. Both of those states have large Latino populations. And the choices voters make today are sure to be parsed by the campaigns.

Let's talk about this with Mindy Romero. She studies the Latino vote. She's director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis. She's on the line. Mindy, good morning.

MINDY ROMERO: Good morning.

GREENE: So help us sort of try and define the Latino vote because I guess I worry sometimes about stereotyping a - you know, one certain voting block over another. I mean, when you study this group, how do you sort of see it?

ROMERO: Well, first off, it is large. And it is diverse. There is no monolithic Latino vote or Latino community. That's for sure.

GREENE: Mm-hm.

ROMERO: When we're talking about elections, it gets a little more simple in the sense that when we look at registration and voting trends, Latinos overall tend to skew Democratic. Not everyone - we know that Latinos who are of Cuban-American descent - right? - in Florida tend to be more conservative, generally, and Republican.

And certainly, there are also other differences within the Latino population and within the Latino vote, such as by income and educational attainment and background, generational status and so forth.

GREENE: Well, what are you seeing in 2016? I mean, to what extent is this voting block being driven to the polls? And what are the issues that are driving Latinos to get out there and engage?

ROMERO: I think, generally speaking, when we're talking about a presidential year, that's when we see higher Latino turnout. That's the case for other underrepresented groups. And that's the case for Latinos as well. So it's 2016. We would expect higher turnout.

And I think a lot of Latinos have been - I guess - made aware of the primary season - have been paying attention to it, have been hearing a lot of media coverage, obviously, because of, on one end, Donald Trump and the rhetoric that's happened there.

There's been great support amongst young Latinos - Latino millennials - for Sanders. And there's a lot of enthusiasm, as there is in the larger population, for Sanders amongst youth. And that's brought in, I think, a lot of attention, as well.

GREENE: You said something that caught my ear - that underrepresented groups turn out much more during a presidential campaign year. Why might that be?

ROMERO: Yeah. Presidential elections get more attention, more time, more money - right? - more media coverage in general. And when you're a group or part of a group that has lower turnout, or a larger segment of your population doesn't participate, you need outreach.

And when there's a presidential cycle, there tends to be more money, more outreach. People tend to feel like things are at stake. It's the presidential. It's exciting.

GREENE: We have seen some Latino voters come out in support of Donald Trump. And sort of - how you analyze that?

ROMERO: Many Latinos are here for many generations. They don't necessarily think of themselves as having a connection to the immigrant experience. Latinos, certainly, that are not Mexican - Latinos that are - that have different experiences for coming here to the United States.

Many of them may not necessarily like at all what they're hearing Donald Trump say. But they align with him on other issues.

GREENE: Do candidates in both parties make a mistake in focusing too much on the Latino vote if sort of being - I don't know - identified stereotype can actually anger Latino voters sometimes?

ROMERO: Well, I think both parties need to be focusing on the Latino vote, simply because of their - its sheer size. And because of its growing size - the growth that we expect to see over the next 30 years. So they're foolish if they don't.

The question is - how do they approach the Latino population? How do they bring them into their party - right? - to support their candidates and their issues? And that's where, sometimes, very simplistic views or stereotypes or assumptions can turn off voters. And you can see this around language.

I hear often in different Latino communities where mailers will come out, and they'll be in Spanish - particularly for young people. Overwhelming number of millennials speak English. English is their native tongue. Many millennials don't speak Spanish or even understand it to some degree.

And they get a mailer that's in Spanish. And it's hard for them to connect. They recognize there is an assumption that's made about them. And for some, it can just turn them off.

GREENE: Mindy, thanks so much for talking to us.

ROMERO: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Mindy Romero is director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.