What Do Young Latino Voters Want to Hear on the Republican Debate Stage?

“Young Latinos just want to have normal lives. We don’t want to be in crisis mode 24-7 with breaking news alerts going on every two hours.” – Santiago Mayer, executive director of Voters of Tomorrow.

Latino youth — predicted to be a major voting bloc in the 2024 Presidential election — are veering from their older family members and shifting hard left on a host of issues, including gun control, reproductive rights, climate change, and immigration policy.

A day ahead of the second Republican Presidential debate, the Brennan Center for Justice hosted a panel discussion Sept. 26, focusing on the rising power of LatinX youth. The panel featured Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino; Santiago Mayer, executive director of Voters of Tomorrow, which he founded at age 17; and Arizona state Rep. Alma Hernandez, who has been involved in Democratic politics since she was 14. The panel was moderated by Paola Ramos, a correspondent for Vice and a contributor at Telemundo and MSNBC.

Latinos are now the second largest voting bloc in the United States after non-Hispanic white voters. Latinos are also both the fastest growing and the youngest electorate. In 2022, 34.5 million Latinos were eligible to vote, according to a Pew Research Center study, up almost 5 million since 2018. An estimated 70% of Latinos who vote are registered Democrats. However, candidate engagement with the community is minimal.

‘The Good Old Days of Newt Gingrich’

Panelists noted that narratives about the Latino vote swinging right to support former President Donald Trump are based on a deep campaign of misinformation, perpetuated through both social and mainstream media.

Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino.

Kumar said candidates would have to take a stance on immigration, going back to their party’s roots. “There was a time when the Republican party was vying for the Latino vote. And not so long ago in 2012, when Newt Gingrich — former Speaker of the House — was on that stage, he was talking about compassionate pathways to citizenship for people who had been in this country for at least 10 or 20 years.”

“But Republican candidates today have failed miserably because instead they’ve politicized workers, people that want to contribute, who are American: all but a social security number. And as a result, we have been polarized as a country in ways that we never thought possible.”

“So what I would look for of individuals going on to that stage is some leadership and adulthood and speaking straight. Because it’s very easy to demonize the most vulnerable and the most marginalized. But at the end of  the day, none of those folks that do that have a pathway to the White House, plain and simple,” said Kumar.

The Frat Boy Demographic

“Our job as Latinos is to make sure that we are paying attention and holding people accountable because at the end of the day, we want the same protections every American has, including for our families,” she added. “The person that wants to truly have a shot at the White House tomorrow night is going to have to be able to divorce themselves from the dangerous policies that are hurting people in Latino communities.”

Santiago Mayer, executive director of Voters of Tomorrow

Mayer discussed the findings of a recent Voters of Tomorrow poll. “Young people care about the economy and jobs. This is number one, which is shocking for a lot of people, but it is really something that we feel in our day-to -day lives,” he said.

“Number two, abortion rights and access to reproductive care. Even some of the groups that you really wouldn’t think care about abortion, like the frat boy demographic, for example, they are very concerned about this issue,” said Mayer.

“We care about gun violence. We’ve grown up with the threat of fearing in our own classrooms. We’ve seen the climate deteriorate, and we are very concerned about the climate crisis,” he said, adding that Latino youth are also concerned about LGBTQ rights even if they are not part of the queer community.

‘Worlds Exploding’

“The bottom line is young people, especially young Latinos just want to have normal lives. We don’t want to be in crisis mode 24-7 with breaking news alerts going on every two hours. We just want to be able to sit down, and have a normal conversation without something in the world exploding and having to deal with it,” said Mayer.

“Candidates need to lean on that, especially the Republican candidates who keep in many ways sort of denying reality, especially with regards to like climate and gun violence,” he added.

Arizona state Rep. Alma Hernandez

Hernandez, the youngest-ever representative in the Arizona state Legislature, said she would like to see the candidates comprehensively address reproductive rights.

Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

“Women’s health is going to be on the ballot again. And I think it’s really critical that these candidates tell us where they stand on this issue. If they’re, if they think they’re going to win by saying: ‘we’re going to continue to attack women and their reproductive rights,’ well, I’d love to see how that goes.”

“Republicans blocked President Joe Biden’s efforts for student loan debt forgiveness. And I would like to really hear what their plans are to help so many American students who have gone into so much debt to get educated. What is their plan to help them?”

“We tell people constantly: ‘go to school, get an education, you’ll get a good job’, but what are Republicans’ plans for those who have gone to school, but now are barely making enough to cover their loan payments?” queried Hernandez.

“We’re hearing that a recession is coming again. And I think that people around my age and people who have gone to school are really, really starting to get nervous and really want to know what, what are people going to do to help them? And those are two of the important issues that I believe is going to really change the minds of voters and the way that they’re going to see these folks who want to be elected officials,” she said.

All three panelists agreed that candidates need to reach out to LatinX voters consistently throughout the election cycle, not just two weeks before the polls open.