With contributions by Samantha Soto González Soto and Azucena Hilario
A record 32 million Latinos are projected to vote in November, making this group, for the first time in history, the largest racial or ethnic minority in a U.S. presidential. According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos will account for 13.3% of all eligible voters.
No other candidate has appealed to the Latino vote as strongly as Bernie Sanders. The Senator from Vermont named a number of Latinos to top positions in his campaign staff, including his national political director, and gained the important endorsement of New York first-term congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Early on, the campaign began to hold “Unidos por Bernie” events and the 78-year-old candidate was often presented as “Tío Bernie” (Uncle Bernie).
In Southern California, Sanders’ first campaign office was opened in East Los Angeles –a clear signal of the importance of the Latino community to the candidate.
In his appeal to Latino voters, Sanders has called on a moratorium on deportations, an end to immigration raids and a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants living in the United States. He also promises free healthcare for all and higher-paying jobs.
The tactic appears to be working: according to a Reuters/Ipsoso poll, Sanders has the support of 29% of Latino voters nationwide –the most of any Democratic presidential candidate. A poll by Monmouth University showed Sanders leading his closest rival in California, former Vice President Joe Biden, by seven percentage points thanks to predicted high turnout among Latinos.
But campaign officials recognize that Sanders’ support is stronger among younger voters. In Latino communities, organizers and volunteers focus their outreach on older voters, many of who are primarily Spanish speakers.
On a recent gloomy Saturday morning, a group of young Sanders campaign volunteers met at Evergreen Park in Boyle Heights, to canvass the neighborhood.
Among the canvassers was Brenda Equihua, who carried brochures and voter registration forms along rows of home as an ice cream truck passed by.
“Bernie was woke before it was cool,” she said as she made her way to a three story apartment building.
“Bernie is the most honest candidate,” echoed another canvasser, Chad Cods. “He’s been campaigning the same platform for as long as I’ve been alive.”
During a stop at a Boyle Heights home, the canvassers met María Angélica Ruiz, a resident who supports Sanders even though she is ineligible to vote.
“I know he supports youth, and you are our future,” she told canvassers in Spanish after explaining that she is not a citizen but her children are.
“A lot of people are upset [with Sanders] because he wants to pardon student debt, but that is the reason many students quit school. That’s sad, because we have so many smart people among our youth.”
Sanders campaign is hoping that the candidate gets the majority of Latino votes in California and other states voting March. 3. In the recent Nevada caucuses, Sanders took 54% of the vote.
While Latinos will be the largest ethnic group voting in 2020, only about half of the nation’s 60 million Latinos are eligible to vote. Pew says that’s the smallest share of any racial or ethnic group.
Many of the U.S. Latinos are too young to vote (18.6 million are under 18) and another big group are non-citizen adults (11.3 million, more than half of whom are unauthorized immigrants).
In Boyle Heights, Ruíz said she was hopeful that one day she would be eligible to vote.
“If I were a citizen I would vote for Sanders,” she said. “I will be a citizen, just wait until [Trump] leaves office.”