My son, Nicolas, who recently turned 18, will vote this year for the first time. He’s already registered, and he’s following the presidential race very closely, just like the rest of us.
Nicolas is in good company: 3.4 million Latinos have turned 18 since 2012, according to data from Nielsen, and are thus eligible to vote for the first time in a presidential election. Additionally, 65% of all Latinos old enough to vote are younger than 44. This group could very well determine who the next president of the United States will be … if they get out and vote. That’s where we have a problem.
As voters, we Latinos have a bad reputation. Only 48% of eligible Latinos voted in 2012 — the other half decided to keep silent. Hispanic groups are betting that this trend will be reversed on Nov. 8, and that a significant portion of the nation’s 27 million eligible Latinos will head to the polls. Will Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric bring out more Latinos to vote? We’ll have to wait and see.
Every national poll says that Hillary Clinton is carrying the Latino vote by a substantial margin. A recent survey from NBC and The Wall Street Journal showed that 67% Latino voters favored her over Trump, who garnered only 17%. That should be a very worrisome number for Republicans. After all, John McCain lost the White House in 2008 with 31% of the Latino vote, as did Mitt Romney in 2012, with 27%.
But while millions of Latino millennials could have tremendous sway in the election, they don’t seem too enthusiastic about either candidate. This is arguably one of the dirtiest campaigns in modern American history: Accusations of racism and allegations of sexual harassment have clouded the Trump campaign. Concerns over Hillary Clinton’s lack of transparency about her State Department emails and her private speeches have persisted throughout her campaign. And some of the most worrisome issues for millennials — from student debt to environmental preservation to social justice — haven’t been at the core of either campaign.
That might lead you to expect that 2016 would be a good year for third-party candidates. But Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein failed to rally enough support to earn a place in the three presidential debates, even though many of their ideas resonated among young voters.
Yet simply not voting would be a terrible mistake. This election will have huge consequences for many generations. In November, we’ll all decide what kind of country the United States will be. Will it continue to welcome people from all backgrounds and cultures, as it has for decades? Or will it isolate itself and try to revive a past in which whites were an overwhelming majority?
Contrary to what many pundits (and Trump himself) would have us believe, America’s national electoral system works very well. It’s complicated, yes, due mainly to the fact that a presidential election comes down to electoral votes from each state rather than an overall popular vote. But it’s reliable.
The beauty of a true democracy is that every vote counts. And this time, Nicolas’ will count as well.
P.S.: Nico, back in 1976, when I was your age, I decided not to vote in Mexico. Electoral fraud was rampant, and Jose Lopez Portillo “won” the presidency with no opposing candidate. At that time, Mexico’s government was repressive and authoritarian, and I would have given anything to make my vote count. Three decades passed before I finally voted.
But in my career I’ve seen a president elected in Colombia — Ernesto Samper — after his campaign was accused of receiving millions of dollars from drug traffickers. And in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez amended the constitution in order to remain in power for 13 years, instead of the five he had promised. And Cuba remains under dictatorial rule.
I tell you all of this so that you and friends can know that democracy isn’t easy — but now that you can vote, don’t pass up the chance. Don’t let others decide your fate. In a democracy, your vote is your voice.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision and the host of America With Jorge Ramos on Fusion. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.