The coronavirus pandemic has hit Latino communities hard, destroying their wealth and devastating their families. More than 25,000 Latinos have already died. More than 3 million are unemployed. Four in 10 Latino families with kids are going hungry, and 44 percent of Latino renters are unsure if they’ll be able to pay their bills.
But as campaigning for the general election ramps up, another casualty of the virus’s relentless attack is becoming clear: The pandemic may stunt Latino political power. On top of lackluster outreach from the presidential candidates, COVID-19 may depress voter interest in an election that seems disconnected from many communities’ dire situations, organizers told me, even as Latinos become the country’s largest minority voting bloc, with the potential to deliver a massive electoral bounty to whichever party mobilizes them.
A record 32 million Latinos living in the U.S.—roughly half their population—will be eligible to cast a ballot in November. Polling over the last seven months shows Latinos’ interest in the election fluctuating with the pandemic, and though a majority now say they plan to vote, historically more than half have sat out presidential elections. They don’t seem as enthusiastic about this presidential matchup as they were in 2012 or 2016. Over the next two decades, Latinos’ share of the electorate will swell considerably, with a million young voters turning 18 every single year. With these numbers, the bloc will have the potential to reshape the country’s political dynamics, in part by shifting power to a new cohort of younger voters. But without stronger and more consistent efforts to mobilize these Americans, Latinos will not soon become the political force they are poised to be. The result? The major political parties could once again dismiss Latino voters as a “sleeping giant” too unreliable to vote.