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In-Depth: Harris County’s Latino Vote More Than Doubled In Primary Compared To 2014

Experts attribute the increase to a national political climate polarized by immigration, along with other factors such as a high number of Latino candidates


The number of votes cast by Harris County Latino voters in the March 6th primary election more than doubled compared to their participation in the previous primary held on a mid-term year –in 2014— and experts attribute the increase to what they categorize as a national political climate particularly polarized by the immigration issue, among other factors.

The predictions about Harris County Latinos becoming more engaged in the recent mid-term primary were right: The number of Latino voters who cast their ballot more than doubled compared to the previous primary of the same kind, in 2014, with an overwhelming majority voting in the Democratic election. Experts attribute the increase to factors such as the national political climate polarized by the immigration discussion and a high number of Latino candidates, among others.

According to the office of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, 36,184 Spanish-surnamed voters voted in the 2018 primary election compared to 13,721 in 2014.

The increase in turnout –which is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in a particular election– also doubled: 491,912 Spanish-surnamed voters were registered in the county as of February, which means the turnout was close to 7.4 percent, compared to the 370,293 Spanish-surnamed voters who were registered in the county in 2014, which means the turnout that year was 3.7 percent.

The break down by party was also significant.

In 2014, 53 percent of Latino voters participated in the Republican primary and 47 percent voted in the Democratic election, while this year 70 percent of that segment of the electorate took part in the Democratic primary and 30 percent voted in the GOP election.

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For Jerónimo Cortina, a political science associate professor at the University of Houston, “the electoral climate during the primary election was extremely polarized” and that is one of the factors that explain the increase in the turnout in Harris County.



Robert Stein

To that point, professor Robert Stein, from Rice University's department of political science, agrees with Cortina on the polarization factor and believes that the Democratic Party in Harris County, and Texas as a whole, is seeing more “quality, experienced, well-financed candidates” who are “contesting in primaries, which we haven’t seen for almost twenty years.”

Stein also mentions an “uptick” of Spanish-surnamed candidates in the March 6th ballot as a factor to consider when analyzing the higher turnout compared to 2014. The race to succeed Green in the U.S. House of Representatives is an illustrative example, given that there were as many as six Spanish-surnamed candidates on the Democratic ballot and two on the Republican ballot.

Cortina also points to that particular race as a reason for the surge of the Latino vote in Harris County.

For Carlos Duarte, Texas state director for the group Mi Familia Vota –which advocates on social and economic issues that impact the Latino community and promotes voting— the increase of Latino votes in the past primary doesn’t come as a surprise. “Since 2016, there has been a very forceful campaign against immigrants and against Latinos, not only at the national level but also at the state level, and I think that is one of the factors that explain why Latinos are much more civically engaged.”

The immigration element, in the context of the political climate, has definitely played a role, according to Claudia Ortega-Hogue, Texas state director for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, which promotes voting in Latino communities.

“Immigration is a big issue that hits home because, even as a naturalized citizen or a U.S. citizen, you also may have a relative or a cousin, or a friend that may be undocumented,” Ortega-Hogue commented.

Cortina highlights one of the most important elements about the higher volume of Latinos voting in the recent primary is the expectation that it will also happen in the mid-term election because “if you have higher participation in the primary, that means that you would expect to see the same pattern repeating in November.”

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