Are Texas Latinos a Presidential Election Game Changer?

The road to the White House in 2016 could run through Latino Texas – and both parties know it. Finding that road may be the first challenge.

By Rhonda FanningMarch 25, 2015 12:10 pm

It’s been said many times over the years that the road to the White House runs through Latino Texas. This time it might actually be true.

It’s a topic Domino Perez has written lots about. Perez, the director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT-Austin, acknowledges it’s something of a perennial in politics: the idea of Latino voters proving decisive in an election. She tells Texas Standard the reason it hasn’t proven out is because of a failed one-size-fits-all approach.

“I think it’s [Latinos] conceived of as a single entity,” Perez says. “And the reason that marketers have not been successful, I would say, is the same reason why politicians have not been successful …  by not acknowledging the diversity within Latino communities.”

A report commissioned by UT-Austin’s Center for Mexican American Studies and its new Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies is due to be released later this month. It looks at the voting process, as well as a range of issues relevant to voters.

Considering that the median age of Latinos in Texas is 27, Perez says that as younger age groups mature, landscapes could shift toward their political preferences.

While a number of issues impact the historically low Latino voter turnout in Texas, Perez says they’re “not unlike other voters” that follow similar turnout patterns. But a connection to voters – or a lack of one – around ideas like family, religion, or language could make or break candidates.

Perez says two types of issues can motivate Latino voters: social issues and economic issues. “But ultimately,” she says, “it’s about who are those candidates, and how can they connect with them on those issues.”

For Perez, the smart, savvy candidate will learn about issues from the source – building a “grassroots model from the people up.” Her article for The Hill can be read here.

 This story was prepared with assistance by Jan Ross Piedad.