Politics

Latino Voters Turned Out In Iowa In A Record Way

CREDIT: Emily Atkin

A sign at a mock caucus event in Des Moines, Iowa, where LULAC volunteers taught Latino voters how to participate in the state's complicated presidential primary voting process.

Before the 2016 Iowa Caucus, the League of United Latin American Citizens set a lofty goal: Turn out 10,000 Latino Iowans, more than the state has had in its history.

On Thursday, two weeks after the Iowa caucus concluded, LULAC vice president for the midwest Joe Henry told ThinkProgress that the goal was not only reached — it was surpassed. “We do estimate that we achieved 13,000 people, [meaning] 25 percent of our registered voters participated,” Henry said. “We are very pleased with the results.”

Henry said the estimate comes from both media exit polling and ground estimates from the group’s 700 volunteers who went to caucus. This year, LULAC had an unprecedented voter turnout effort, spearheaded by LULAC’s large, statewide “get out the vote”-type effort. That effort represented the first time anyone had formally asked the state’s growing Latino population to vote. In the past, most candidate- and party-driven turnout efforts had focused white people, who make up 91 percent of the state’s population. Latinos make up just 5.6 percent.

The 13,000 number is not official (Henry called it a “guesstimate”) because his group hasn’t been able to get concrete information from state Democratic and Republican party officials, who have the hard numbers. Still, in a memo sent to National LULAC President Roger Rocha Jr., Henry said he was confident in the exit polling numbers and that the official numbers could be higher. He estimated that 4 percent of all 200,000 participants in the Democrat Caucuses were Latino, a total of about 8,000 voters. He also estimated that 2 percent of the 240,000 participants in the Republican Caucuses were Latino, a total of about 4,800 voters.

If confirmed, the numbers would be vast improvements over previous years. Only about 1,000 Latino voters participated in the 2012 Iowa Caucus, Henry said, and only 2,500 came out in 2008. In addition, the confirmed numbers would also mean that a high percentage of eligible Latino voters participated in Iowa’s voting process. LULAC estimated that there were 50,000 eligible Latino voters in the state — if 13,000 came out to vote, that translates to about 26 percent.

“The final result of our participation was clear: We had an impact on the selection of candidates in both the Democrat and Republican Caucuses,” Henry wrote in the memo. “We showed in a significant way that ‘brown votes matter.'”

Now, Henry hopes that LULAC’s success in Iowa can translate to other primary states where Latino turnout has been low. All those states need to do, Henry said, is replicate his state’s effort — a widespread grassroots campaign of door-knocking, community outreach, partnerships with school districts, and other places Latinos frequent to inform about the election and issues that are important to them.

“We were a test ground for how Latinos vote, on the way that we reached out to our community,” Henry said. “We wanted to prove that our people do vote, and they do participate if asked, and we did just that.”