Democratic Primaries: The Latino Vote

Early in the current primary season, Hillary Clinton had a significant edge over Bernie Sanders among Latino voters. Clinton further seemed to solidify her position when she grabbed the endorsement of secretary of housing and urban development, Julián Castro and some key Latino heavy hitters.

Sanders’ supporters include Rep. Raul Grijalva, son of a migrant worker from Mexico, who happens to be the first congressman to endorse the candidate, and prominent activist Arturo Carmona, who Sanders appointed as his Latino outreach director. Over time, Sanders has been able to generate a groundswell of Latino support, putting a damper on Clinton’s prospects in this voting bloc.

Latino Electorate

Latinos constitute 17.3 percent of US population, making them the largest minority bloc. The biggest Latino concentrations are in the Western states of New Mexico, California and Texas. New Mexico has 47.7 percent, followed by California and Texas, each of which has 38.6 percent. Other Western states with significant Latino presence include Nevada (27.8 percent) and Colorado (21.2 percent). In the East, states having sizable Latino pockets include Florida (24.1 percent) and New York (18.6 percent).

Although well ahead of African-Americans in nationwide population count, Latinos lag in terms of eligible voters. In the 2016 election cycle, Latinos constitute 11.9 percent of eligible voters, which puts them 0.5 percentage points behind African-Americans.

Nationwide Position

NBC News/SurveyMonkey national weekly election tracking survey of the Democratic nomination contest shows a rapidly narrowing of Clinton’s lead over Sanders among Latino voters. What is helping Sanders is his strong support among millennials, who account for 44 percent of the record 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters, a share greater than that of any other racial or ethnic group of voters. Latinos traditionally have had a low voter turnout, but an increase in the levels of education among Latino voters is translating into a greater participation in the polls.

Significance of Nevada Caucuses

The primary factor that helped Clinton clinch victory in the overall vote in Nevada was her intricate organizational machine. Clinton provided the money and the apparatus to build a top-flight ground game. Sanders’ poll numbers were also impacted by the relatively low turnout, which was one-third short of the 120,000 voters who participated in Nevada caucuses in 2008. Sanders carried more than 80 percent of voters under the age of 30, while Clinton won the backing of two-thirds of those 45 and older.

In the 2008 election cycle, Clinton had scooped up the Hispanic vote in Nevada, getting 64 percent against Obama’s 26 percent. In the current election cycle, she was expected to win handily in this voting bloc. But, as per exit polls, she lost the Hispanic vote to Sanders, 45 percent to 53 percent.

As the first Western state to hold Democratic primaries, Nevada was considered Clinton’s Latino firewall. If Sanders’ support among Latinos holds, it could hurt the Clinton campaign on Super Tuesday, when votes are cast in Texas and Colorado, both of which have heavy Latino presence. Moreover, Sanders’ Latino support could impact Clinton’s chances in delegate-rich states of Florida, New York and California.

Issues of Importance to Latinos

Both Sanders and Clinton are strong advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, a profound issue for Latinos. Both of the candidates want to provide undocumented immigrants from Latin America a pathway to citizenship, and both want to aggressively implement and strengthen President Obama’s recent executive actions.

In January, Sanders opposed Obama administration’s large-scale round-ups of Central American migrant families, citing the extreme violence that these families face in their home countries. Sanders urged President Obama to use his executive authority to protect those fleeing from unsafe countries in Central America. Taking a position at odds with that of Sanders, Clinton stated that undocumented Central American children be deported.

Both the candidates have promised to address issues impacting Latinos, including jobs and the economy, as well as education and health care. However, by being more aggressive in highlighting social inequities stemming from poverty and unemployment among Latinos, Sanders is striking a chord among these voters.


Sanders’ commitment to issues of consequence to Latinos is resonating among voters. While the Latino vote will not be the sole determinant of outcome of the primaries, it could nevertheless tilt the balance in Sanders’ favor, and potentially play a big role in the final outcome.