How did Latinos vote in the statewide recall election?
Election workers with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters wheel in duffle bags filled with ballots for the Sept. 14 gubernatorial recall election. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom walloped opponents looking to oust him in Tuesday’s recall election, both statewide and in Santa Clara County.

    For Latinos, the no-recall effort still won, though not as big as other demographics. Some experts say that’s in part to a changing, younger and more diverse electorate.

    ‘There is a feeling they are being taken for granted’

    According to exit poll data, roughly 60% of Latino voters across the state backed Newsom. That’s a slightly smaller margin than the 64% Newsom won statewide in 2018—meaning that more Latinos, males especially, have shifted to the right.

    As of Thursday, with more than 95% of precincts reporting, Santa Clara County residents voted by a 50% margin to keep Newsom in office. That’s 11 percentage points higher than the statewide results. Voter turnout in Santa Clara County was approximately 53%, according to county data. Local demographic data from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters was not immediately available.

    There’s a large gender gap for Latino voters, with Latina women more likely to side with Newsom by 19 percentage points.

    Experts say the Democratic Party is partly to blame for the relatively weak support among Latinos.

    “There was a lot of talk about Latinos not being mobilized and why that is,” Danvy Le, a professor in political science at CSU East Bay, told San José Spotlight. “There is a feeling they are being taken for granted, especially by the Democratic Party. The party seems to be hinging on the memory of Prop 187. But a lot of Latinos, especially younger Latinos that they need to reach, may not remember Prop 187.”

    Proposition 187 is a now-repealed and highly controversial ballot measure passed by voters in 1994. Its passage sought to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibited undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education and other services in the state. The proposition was challenged in a federal circuit court and found unconstitutional just three days after it passed.

    Setting the stage for 2022

    Republicans have made inroads nationally with Latino and Hispanic voters in recent years. In 2020, former President Donald Trump made significant gains in the Latino/Hispanic community, garnering 38% of their vote compared to 28% in the 2016 presidential election, reflecting the wide diversity in the Latino/Hispanic electorate.

    “Hispanic voters have been turning out for the right in larger numbers than expected,” said Ben Kaplan, CEO of TOP Government and TOP Data, San Francisco-based polling and research firms. “It really sets the stage for 2022, but also 2024 to see what extent that could impact the voting dynamic because Latinos are the state’s largest voting bloc.”

    Generally speaking, according to Kaplan, those who voted to back the recall were more likely to prioritize the economy over the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Bob Nuñez, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP and former chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, said Latinos in Silicon Valley still favor some conservative views, especially among business owners and people who rank family values as a high priority.

    “Relying on the Latino vote to be strictly with the Democrats is something that shouldn’t be counted on, and the outreach to them hasn’t been as strong. I think Latino voters still have a conservative base themselves,” Nuñez told San José Spotlight. “But I do think Republicans won’t learn from this. I think they’re going to stick with those kinds of issues that are not important to Latino voters and I think that’s going to hurt them.”

    Civic participation

    Other impacts? Latinos have been disproportionately hit hard by the pandemic, both in terms of health and economically, and they suffer from some of the lowest vaccination rates in the region.

    “It makes sense that this group that has been highly affected would have divergent viewpoints as well,” Kaplan said. “The biggest thing this recall election foreshadows is that Silicon Valley, a Democratic stronghold within a Democratic stronghold, for Republicans to make inroads they’re just going to need a bipartisan candidate. It’s very hard for a hard, right-wing candidate to do that.”

    For many never-Newsomers, that hard right-wing candidate was conservative talk show host Larry Elder. In the weeks before the recall, Elder was the clear leader among those who wanted a new governor. The only other serious Democrat beyond Newsom to factor into the race was YouTube financial advisor Kevin Paffrath. According to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Elder and Paffrath garnered 31% and 18.8% of voters who picked a candidate to replace Newsom.

    But in spite of a growing political divide among Latino voters, the most important thing advocates want to impart is civic participation. Though turnout among Latinos dipped on Tuesday compared to the 2020 presidential election, it’s still at an all-time high. And Latino leaders hope the message of the importance of voting gets through, even if both parties are sluggish in Latino outreach.

    “We’re very excited that people participated and turned out. With a recall, you’re going to get people from opposite sides of the spectrum who are very passionate about this issue and this vote,” Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. The coalition hosted an online bilingual meeting to inform residents about the recall and how they could vote. “It was really important that we’re able to inform them and educate them about what was coming up and what was in their mailbox just so they knew how that process works.”

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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