Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is gaining massive ground across the United States during the primaries, partly thanks to Latino voters.
The 78-year-old white senator from Vermont looks like an unlikely choice for young and working-class Latino voters, but they helped carry Sanders to victory in Nevada over the weekend, creating big momentum ahead of Super Tuesday, on March 3, when voters will head to the polls in Texas, California and Colorado, among other states.
That was evident when Sanders delivered his victory speech not in Nevada, but in Texas, one of the bastions of US elections and whose Hispanic popularity is expected to become the state’s largest by 2022. “Tío Bernie”, as many of his Latino voters have been endearingly calling him, is already preparing for the next step.
Latinos are showing their support not just at the polls. Of all the Democratic candidates, Latinos gave the most political donations to Sanders, contributing almost US $8.3 million to his campaign in 2019. The report, an analysis of campaign finance data by technology company Plus Three, found that 36 percent of Latinos’ dollars went to the democratic socialist.
Why do Latinos like Sanders?
One of strengths among the group of Latinos who is rallying behind Sanders is age. As Maria Theresa Kumar, president of the nonprofit Voto Latino, explained, Latinos represent the second-largest voting bloc in this election, for the very first time.
And this bloc is overwhelmingly young. Kumar said that the majority of whites in the United States are 54, while the majority of Latinos are 19.
These young Latinos are a key demographic in this election because, in many communities, they represent the first generation in their household to have the right to vote. In many families, these young members have long acted as translators and intermediaries for older relatives. In assuming that role, they hold the power to shape the mentality of their whole families and communities.
The majority of whites in the United States are 54, while the majority of Latinos are 19
In a sense, the appeal of Sanders among Latinos isn’t related to the senator’s policies regarding their ethnic group, but to their age group.
But what would a Sanders’s win do for Latinos? The democratic socialist candidate has based his campaign on three pillars: free education, health care and immigration. Let’s take a closer look at his promises.
The bulk of Latino voters are either entering the workforce or college. By centering this promises on issues relating to improving economic chances for young people, either through anti-discrimination bills or offering college for all, Sanders is appealing to the needs of young Latinos, who often come from low-income families and thus lack the accumulative wealth privilege of other groups, particularly young whites.
As part of his strategy, Sanders has promised free higher education through his Free College for All Act. The policy would allocate US$ 47 billion per year to states to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at two- and four-year public colleges and universities.
In addition, Sanders has also promised to cancel all student debts, an issue that affects millions of Americans. The average annual tuition and fees for a four-year bachelor's degree in the US is US$ 8,893 for in-state students of public colleges, and US$ 22,203 for out-of-state students of public colleges. Going to college is a costly business that not everyone can afford.
Nearly 20% of Latino or Hispanic Americans live in poverty, a figure well above the national 13.4% for all Americans. Having access to higher education could change the scenario for Latinos in just one generation or two.
Studies show that young adults, nonwhite and Hispanic adults, and those with low incomes, are more likely to benefit from Medicare for All, Sanders’ flagship health proposal.
Nearly 20% of Latino or Hispanic Americans live in poverty, a figure well above the national 13.4% for all Americans
The senator’s plan promises to eliminate private health insurance and to introduce a single-payer, national health insurance program. The idea is to expand the current Medicare system, which covers primarily those aged 65 and older and some with disabilities. This means that all US citizens would have guaranteed rights to public health care, which would be covered by the taxpayer.
Hispanics have the highest uninsured rate of any ethnic group at 37.1%. Former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) had decreased the rate of uninsured Hispanics, but under the Trump Administration, that number has risen again. More than 22 million Hispanics still lack health insurance coverage.
Given the high likelihood of Latino families in the US being low income and uninsured, it is unsurprising that Latinos are showing support for Sanders’s promise to ensure all citizens.
Immigration and labor rights
Sanders’s immigration plan is unique because he links this issue, which disproportionately affects Latinos in the US, to workers’ rights.
This is particularly smart because it handles Sanders’s long track record placing labor interests above immigration, which has put the progressive senate in opposition to his otherwise pro-immigrant rhetoric more than once.
His proposed policy attempts to create a worker-centric immigration plan that incorporates immigrants’ labor rights.
Sanders’s plan does two things for Latinos. First, Sanders’s plan would allow immigrants to participate in Medicare for All and College for All.
Second, the plan would offer whistleblower protections for immigrant workers who speak up about workplace abuses. This policy would improve working conditions for immigrants who often suffer abuses at the hand of their employers for fear of retaliation that could result in their deportation. Given that about half of Hispanic workers are immigrants, Sanders’s politics on labor rights would positively impact about 12 million Latinos.
As a consequence, Sanders’s plans would increase labor standards for farmworkers, domestic workers, gig economy workers, and workers in other underregulated industries. In 2014, 43.4% of those working in farming, fishing and forestry in the US were Latino. Similarly, 32.2% of workers in construction and extraction were Latino, making it easy to see why these combined immigration and labor policies are appealing to the group.
And while immigration is an important issue to Latinos, it historically ranks behind health care and the economy in terms of importance during election cycles. That is why Sanders’s strategy to link immigration with workers’ rights is quite smart, as it also allows him to bank on the negative impact Trump has had with Latinos and other minority groups in terms of immigration.
Latino voters are young Americans who grew up in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. They are entering the workforce to face wages that have remained remarkably stagnant despite the positive economic trends. They have not witnessed capitalism deliver on its promises. They have not seen the profits trickle down. The policies of a pro-labor candidate makes all the sense in the world for first- and second-generation Latinos, who have not had time and opportunities to accumulate wealth.