Waking Up the ‘Sleeping Giant’ Starts With Climate Change (OPINION)

Sep 21, 2020
11:45 AM

(Photo by Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0)

Versión en español aquí.

One election after another there is talk of the sleeping giant, of the Latino vote as the key to winning in November, but year after year Democrats and Republicans are faced with a difficult reality: how to mobilize Latino voters, how to get them excited to vote. For many years the traditional rule was to think that immigration was the key to speaking to this community, but the political circle of this country has begun to understand that Latinos are not a monolithic group and our priorities are much more varied and broad.

There are currently two major problems when it comes to mobilizing the Latino vote. The first is the lack of investment and resources for grassroots groups to expand their network and increase voter registration. There is tremendously important fieldwork that cannot yet be done with the necessary force in the key states for the election.

The second problem is the message. Of course, immigration is a very relevant issue for the community, but most candidates make the big mistake of staying only on this issue and promising the next immigration reform with a smile. Where is the education, where are the jobs, where is the aid to small businesses, where are the concrete actions to mitigate climate change?

Latinos care about all these issues and we need to feel that when the candidates speak about the problems and solutions in these areas, we are also included in that debate. We need to see that there are concrete proposals in each of these areas to face the challenges in our particular communities. We are not one more line to cross off the list just by talking about immigration.

Candidates need to understand this sooner rather than later, otherwise, they will keep missing out on a great opportunity. This November for the first time, Latinos will make up the second largest voting bloc in the country. A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote in November and about 40 percent of eligible Latino voters are between the ages of 18 and 35.

Especially in the area of ​​climate change, despite the numbers showing the opposite, the campaigns still don’t quite understand that this is one of the most important issues for Latinos in this election, especially for young voters.

A poll conducted in June this year found that 47% of voters said they were motivated to vote due to climate change and that the issue is a priority in 2020.

The poll showed that protecting the environment and addressing climate change motivates younger Latinos, ages 18 to 34, to vote at a rate close to or equal to issues such as ensuring affordable housing, student debt, a path to citizenship for immigrants, and addressing access to mental health.

For candidates who truly understand the needs of Latinos, these numbers are not surprising. Think about people of color and other disadvantaged communities who are more likely to be exposed to pollution and the impacts of climate change. On average, non-Hispanic whites experience 17% less pollution than their consumption, while Latinos bear a pollution load by being exposed to 63% more pollution than they generate.

Another poll conducted by Climate Power 2020 in July showed that an overwhelming 77 percent of Latino voters support a message of bold climate action to fight the climate crisis.

The poll found that 71 percent of those surveyed favor bold government action on climate change, while only 19 percent oppose.

Talking about these issues is knowing and appreciating the agenda of the Latino community in the United States. If we really want to wake up the sleeping giant, let’s start by using the right words to speak to him.


Vanessa Cárdenas, is a Democratic strategist and president of CardenasStrategies LLC. Twitter: @cardenasDC.