Maria Elena Sepulveda is uncertain how she will vote in the upcoming California gubernatorial recall election.
The Sacramento housewife is certain of one thing: No gubernatorial candidate in the overcrowded race has done enough to win the vote over people like her.
“Honestly, I haven’t decided whether I’m going to vote one way or the other,” Sepulveda, 39, said.
California is home to 15 million Latinos, who make up about 40% of the state’s population.
The State Democratic Party has long been their favorite party. Analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that the majority, or 58% of Latinos in the state are Democrats, compared to 16% who are Republicans.
They have also been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Latino Californians account for 54.3% of state-reported COVID-19 cases and 46.2% of virus-related deaths, according to state public health data.
Now, with the pandemic still raging, Gov. Gavin Newsom needs them to run for him if he is to survive the September 14 election, making them a closely watched group as the ballots return.
“The Latino population in the state of California has increased,” said MP Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, vice-chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. “So in regards to this next recall election, the Latin American vote will be important and, in my opinion, it will determine whether our governor is recalled or not.”
Latino voters never voted strictly along party lines.
“We are not a monolithic group,” said Mindy Romero, founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. “Latino communities have a long history in California of being politically divided.”
Exit the polls in 2018 showed Latino voters broke for Newsom, 64% to 35%.
Recent statewide polls, however, indicate less support for the Democratic governor this time around.
A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey released in late June showed that 56% of likely Latino voters would vote to keep Newsom in officee, while 40% said they would vote to withdraw it.
Another poll conducted by Univision in August found that Latinos are less aware of the recall election than non-Hispanics, 77% versus 83%, respectively.
This survey showed that 47% of likely Latino voters would vote to keep Newsom in power, compared to 36% who want him to be impeached. High taxation and the state’s homelessness issues were at the top of the list of reasons the recall was supported. About 18% remained undecided, according to the poll.
“Latinos are notoriously late decision makers,” said Mike Madrid, co-founder of The Lincoln Project and expert on Latino voting trends. “You’re going to see a very strong late flurry of ballots coming from Latin American constituencies over the past seven to 10 days.”
The health crisis, the pandemic-induced economic downturn and the burgeoning forest fires in the state have also devastated Latin American communities, Romero said.
“They have felt the impact of COVID and for some it means that they want to see the governor impeached,” she said. “But I think the wider electorate (…) is not following this election and still wondering if their vote counts. I think for the Latino community, (Newsom) has work to do to get this through. word.
What Latino voters are saying
Monica Madrid, of Elk Grove, who works for a community non-profit organization, plans to vote against the recall. She cited Newom’s deportation moratorium and the recent extension of Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented adults and people over the age of 50, as reasons she will vote to keep him in office.
“It’s huge during the pandemic. If they don’t have access to health care during a pandemic, they will die, ”she said. “I don’t think anyone else is really going to help the Latino community as much as Newsom. I don’t think he’s perfect, but he’s the best option we have right now.
Sepulveda struggled to say what Newsom did for her.
“What has he done for the Latino community? she asked. “What benefits have been made available to the Latin American community? ”
His sense of neglect was echoed by Ruben Navarrette, a union columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group, who identifies as a Mexican-American centrist.
He voted for Newsom in 2018. He now encourages others to vote yes on the recall, criticizing Newsom’s response to the pandemic, the closure of public schools and what he called the “lax” vaccine distribution of the ‘State.
“He never made a connection with Latinos, taking for granted the support of the largest and most important ethnic group in the state,” he wrote in a column published last week.
In Newsom’s corner is actor and comedian George Lopez, who posted his support for the governor on Instagram in English and Spanish. “Yo me quedo con Gov. Newsom y see votar no. I stay with Gavin Newsom and vote no, ”he said.
Courting Latino voters
In early August, Newsom ran a Spanish-language advertisement against the recall featuring California Senator Alex Padilla, who Newsom named first Latin American senator from California.
Republican candidates fought back with their own advertising in Spanish.
Larry Elder, the Republican front-runner in the recall race, released an announcement with the approval of former California Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero. Both share strong support for letting parents choose between public schools and charter schools.
In the 30-second ad, Romero criticized Newsom’s decision to close schools and churches during the health emergency.
“Yes, I’m a Democrat,” Romero said in the ad. “But Gavin Newsom’s recall is not about political partisanship. This is Newsom. I support Larry Elder for the governorship.
Christian Arana, vice president of policy at the Latino Community Foundation, said it was not enough for Democrats and Republicans to attract voters through advertisements in Spanish.
“Half of the Latino electorate in California is young… and we don’t all speak Spanish,” he said.
Latino voter participation
In last year’s presidential election, the number of Latino voters voting has reached historic levels nationwide. In California, Latino voters accounted for 24% of the vote, up 1% from 2016, according to a study by the Center for Inclusive Democracy. In California, Latinos make up 30.5% of eligible voters.
For years, political strategists have called rage an effective motivator for Latino voters to engage civically, particularly during the Trump era and the 1990s, when former California Gov. Pete Wilson called out undocumented immigrants to use public services through Proposition 187.
Luis Alvarado, a Republican political strategist, said that was changing.
“They show up or not. And when they show up, it’s not because it’s a message of revenge or retribution anymore, it’s because we graduated and pay attention to the issues, ”he said.
Voto Latino, a grassroots civic engagement organization, puts $ 1 million to attract 600,000 young Latinos to vote no on the recall.
After polls showed a possible slippage in support, the California’s Latino Legislative Caucus over the summer gathered around Newsom, urging them to reject what they see as a Republican recall “takeover”.
The level of turnout among Latino voters in this recall election, however, remains to be seen.
Mike Madrid, the electoral trends expert, said the Latin American electorate often does not match its share of population size, especially in special elections.
“Strong Latin American participation will help Gavin Newsom,” Madrid said. “The problem is, he’s not likely to have a large Latin American turnout.”