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Record Latino Turnout Was A Huge Factor In Democrats' Midterm Election Wins


This past midterm election saw several House seats flip from Republican to Democrat in key states like California, New Jersey and New York. And according to new research out of UCLA, the voters responsible for that shift were Latinos. Matt Barreto is a political science and Chicano/Chicana studies professor. And he co-directed that study. Its main finding - Latino voter turnout in 2018 increased by 96 percent from 2014. He joins us from member station KCLU in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Welcome to the program.

MATT BARRETO: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In this past election, there was an expectation that Latino voters could turn an election. You know, they are the largest minority. But that had never materialized. What was different about this year?

BARRETO: The first is the incredibly high amount of anger and frustration that is present in the Latino community that we have seen build up over the two years that Donald Trump has been president. And then the second thing that happened was that the campaigns were actually very good this year in doing Latino outreach. Rather than just saying, hey, will Latinos come out and participate? - we saw a lot of candidates. We saw a lot of nonpartisan civic groups and organizations. And then we saw a lot of Latinos themselves take it upon themselves to get active to mobilize and engage. And the result was a record high Latino participation in 2018.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are these new voters that were registered and brought into the process? Or are these voters who were already registered and felt motivated? Do we know?

BARRETO: Yes. We saw a combination of both of those things. First, it was over a quarter of the Latino vote were first time voters - had never voted before. I mean, that's a phenomenal aspect. And we're going to see that continue in future years. There are so many young people coming into the process. But we also saw this year a number of people who had voted in the presidential election of 2012 or 2016. But they had not voted in that 2014 midterm. So there were some presidential voters who weren't used to voting in off-year elections who came out in force this year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've looked into some of these elections - let's say Florida versus Nevada. And you saw there sort of two different types of Latinos coming out to vote and really having an impact in the elections. Do we know overall, though, if they vote Democrat, Republican? Does it depend where they're from? I mean, obviously, the group is not a monolith.

BARRETO: Generally, when we take Florida out of the equation, the rest of the country in the states we analyzed, including the Southwest and the Northeast, you have a very strong Democratic performance this year by Latinos, about 80 percent in the non-Florida states. And then Florida is an interesting case because it is one of the most diverse Latino electorates. And it tends to vote more conservative than the other states. So you have a very strong Republican base of Cuban-Americans in Miami. But then in Central Florida, there is a growing Puerto Rican community that votes much more consistently Democratic. There's very strong performance of Latinos in terms of turnout. But there were different patterns that had a strong impact in this election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we've mentioned, the Latino vote has always been seen as a sort of sleeping giant, that it was going to make a difference at some point but that it hadn't yet done so. Do you think this election has changed that narrative?

BARRETO: I think this election has definitely changed the narrative on the Latino vote. It's a story of promise and potential. And it shows what happens when you invest. Latinos turn out in large numbers - record numbers - and at higher growth rates than any other racial group in the United States. And I think that sends an important signal that the Latino vote can deliver. And it will deliver - but only when you invest in it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Matt Barreto. He's a UCLA professor and co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions. Thank you very much.

BARRETO: Fue un placer. Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.