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Latinx Voters In Texas Set To Play Key Role In 2020 Election

Voters wait in line at a polling place located inside a shopping mall on Election Day, in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
Voters wait in line at a polling place located inside a shopping mall on Election Day, in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

The Latinx vote is still up for grabs by both parties in Texas.

A new report from the University of Houston's Center for Mexican American Studies shows the decisive role this voting bloc could play in the 2020 presidential election.

Latinx — a gender-neutral term referring to people in that community — are expected to become the largest population group in Texas by 2022, which gives them "a tremendous amount of clout," the report’s lead author Brandon Rottinghaus says.

In three years, he says Latinos could become 25% of all eligible voters in the state, which would make it the highest in the U.S. besides New Mexico. Across the nation, Pew Research Center projects Latinx make up 12% of all eligible voters.

The Latinx electorate is experiencing growth too, Rottinghaus says.

"You’ve got a double the number of Latino electorate in from 2014 to 2018 at almost 2 million voters," he says, "so this is a rapidly expanding group and is a tremendously ripe opportunity for a party or a candidate to take advantage of these voters."

But the group is not a monolith. The study, " Six Myths About Texas Latinx Republicans," points out that Latinx in Texas favor Republicans in larger percentages than any other state. Rottinghaus says that can be partially attributed to Republicans' dominance across the Lone Star State.

Over the last two decades, Latinx voters in Texas have been inundated with Republican rhetoric, he says. That combined with a "lack of infrastructure" in the state's Democratic Party make for a conservative edge within the demographic.

Still, the majority identify as Democrats, Rottinghaus says, and has been increasing.

"In fact, many don’t feel like in the Latino community that the Republicans are reaching out to them the same way the Democrats are," he says.

The study, which focused on Republican Latinx voters, found various misconceptions that people tend to believe when it comes to this group.

One of them, Rottinghaus says, is many Lantix Republicans are actually "fairly conservative" when it comes to religiously motivated political issues such as abortion.

But on immigration, the trend changes. Rottinghaus says while a significant number of Republican Lantix voters in the university's report lean toward some of Trump's conservative policies — especially on trade deals or nominating right-leaning Supreme Court judges — many view immigrants in a different light than Trump.

Take the El Paso mass shooting and gun control for example, Rottinghaus says.

The shooting "was blamed primarily on white supremacy and growing issues of racial imbalance. And we see Latinos are definitely more likely to embrace that as the cause than the rest of the Republicans" in Texas, he says.

The shooter's violence rocked the community personally, he says. Compared to gun control, other "bread and butter" Republican causes might not affect them in the same manner.

As the 2020 presidential elections loom, the big question is whether Latinx voters can make or break Texas for either party.

Rottinghaus says parties should make outreach to the Lantix community — especially to young voters — one of their top priorities leading up to Election Day.

He points out responses from polling show many younger Latinx voters are not being recruited by political candidates or organizations.

"That’s a huge mistake when you’ve got a growing group the way that this group has been growing in Texas," he says.

It's a crucial time to capitalize on reaching out and grabbing their attention, Rottinghaus explains, because polling suggests Latinx voters in Texas are "more excited" about politics than Texans as a whole.

"This is definitely a moment where if a party does it right and a candidate does it right," he says, "then the Latino vote can essentially awaken."

Cristina Kim produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

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