Election 2020

Undecided Latina Voters In Texas Weigh Their Options Ahead Of 2020 Election

Millions of Texas voters have set early voting records at polling locations throughout the state. Despite fervent early turnout, some remain undecided about who they’ll choose for president.

Using both the English and Spanish language, a sign points potential voters to an official polling location during early voting in Dallas.

Houston resident María Cristina Manrique de Henning still isn't positive about who she'll choose for president.

She voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but this year, she’s leaning towards President Donald Trump. She doesn't like Trump as a candidate, but said she appreciates his administration’s support of business development and its pro-life stance.

Manrique de Henning — who immigrated to the U.S. nearly two decades ago and runs the nonprofit Saludos Connection to help people from her home country of Venezuela — said she was also grateful to see the administration’s stance on the conflict there, which led to more international aid.

In the U.S., Manrique de Henning considers herself center-left: She said she'll vote for congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, but she's just not sure about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. She’s worried he'll raise taxes, and about his mental acuity: She recently saw a TV segment with the Miami-based Peruvian commentator Jaime Bayly, who hosts a talk show about Latin American and U.S. politics, criticizing the former vice president as “aloof.”

Mostly, she said she hasn’t been excited about any candidate in the last two presidential contests.

“Both elections have been an awful experience for me as a new voter,” Manrique de Henning said.

Her mindset for now, she said, is "stick with the devil you know.” But she's still not certain.

“It's funny,” she said. “Because my friends they are like, ‘What? How can you not know?'”

She isn’t alone in that uncertainty. A poll of Texas Latino voters from the summer found that Latinas were five times more likely than Hispanic men to be undecided about the 2020 election.

University of Texas political scientist Victoria DeFrancesco Soto said she thinks Trump's appeal and outreach to men may account for some of that.

“We know that there is a gender gap and one of the most reliable bases for Trump has been men,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “Even among minorities it has been men.”

She also points out that, since the release of this polling data, the Biden campaign has stepped up its outreach to Latinas, and many more people have made up their minds.

Voters wear mask at NRG Arena to vote early in Harris County.

Still, a University of Houston and Univision poll from September found 8% of Texas Latino voters were undecided — that's both men and women.

One of those voters is Jasmine Mendivil, 19, a first-time voter from north Houston.

“I don't know what to do because I see the positives and negatives of both sides,” she said. “And I think that's where I'm at when it comes to the election.”

Mendivil is studying to become a preschool teacher at a local community college and works at an Amazon warehouse. With all that, she admits it’s hard to keep up with politics.

The most important issue for Mendivil this election: neighborhood safety.

“I remember Biden saying something about when it comes to the police, to have them more involved with community members,” Mendivil said. “I thought that was a pretty good point, when it comes to people protecting us as a society we shouldn't feel scared.”

Her family isn't that into politics, she said. But this year they've been paying closer attention — watching debates and speeches.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto said many Latino families come into elections with open minds.

“Latinos tend to be historically more independent and more undecided and that's for a whole host of reasons,” she said.

One reason being that first- or second-generation immigrant families don't have a strong party identity.

“There's not that kind of long tradition of a party — one side or the other,” DeFrancesco Soto said.

Mendivil said her mom's friends have pressured their family to vote for Trump. Mendivil's own friends, though, are anti-Trump or undecided.

Asked what she thinks about the president, like how he handled COVID-19, Mendevil provides light criticism.

“I feel like sometimes he would downplay it a little,” Medivil said.

She said Trump should've done a better job at the start of the pandemic.

But she's hoping to do more research in the coming days. She knows time's almost up before she'll have to make a decision.

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Elizabeth Trovall

Elizabeth Trovall

Immigration Reporter

Elizabeth Trovall is an immigration reporter for Houston Public Media. She joined the News 88.7 team after several years abroad in Santiago, Chile, where she reported on business, energy, politics and culture. Trovall's work has been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, Latino...

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