How Will Latinos Vote in Swing States?
Denver — Joie Gutierrez is Mitt Romney’s problem. Not far up the highway, Barack Obama’s problem is named Jaime Portillo. Both are eligible voters. Neither plans to exercise their right in November. And no amount of cajoling, convincing or campaigning will change that fact. Instead, their votes will be among thousands left on the table come Election Day in Colorado. That they are Latino is perhaps less surprising.
According to U.S. Census data, there are about 664,000 Latino adults living in Colorado and a survey released this year by the group Latino Decisions shows there were 340,798 registered Hispanic voters in the state. That means 49 percent of Hispanics in the Centennial State aren’t registered to vote. The reasons are varied — apathy, belief that a vote doesn’t matter, lack of time or simple dissatisfaction with the two candidates.
But campaigns for Obama and Romney are reaching out to that demographic through canvassing, phone banks and a blitz of bilingual advertising on television and radio.
Latino Vote Key in Nevada,
A Swing State Ravaged by Housing
Reno, Nev. — It’s dark, early and quiet when Julian Soriano awakens, gets dressed and prepares to travel three hours to a job that won’t come close to covering the monthly mortgage payment on a house he’s about to lose anyway.
In the kitchen at 1:30 a.m, his parents are up as well. Flora Soriano stands over sizzling onions and eggs frying in a pan while Gonzalo Soriano’s gnarled, weathered hands stuff an ice chest with drinks.
The 27-year-old, wearing an orange sweatshirt and jeans, watches his parents for a moment before heading out to the truck to get a heavy safety harness for the bridgework he’s about to do. The job will last a week. There are no employment guarantees beyond that, so he has to take it. To turn work down now may mean not being considered for stable work later. And if Soriano learned anything during the recession, it’s this: A job is everything.
“I feel bad,” Soriano said. “My parents came to this country for a better life for us.”
He doesn’t know if a better life is possible now. He doesn’t know if it can be better again, though a barrage of political ads suggest it can by voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
Both campaigns view Latinos like Soriano as critical in Washoe County — a swing county in a swing state. But political promises — even delivered in Spanish — can’t compete with the personal stories told and retold by those living through Nevada’s mortgage meltdown. Which is why real-estate agents Lolis Vazquez and Kristene Biglieri look at Soriano — their client — and take their voting cues from his experience.
David’s Story Behind the Story
In 2008, Nevada and Colorado were focal points for the Democrats’ Western states strategy in helping President Barack Obama capture the White House and special attention was paid to Nevada and Colorado in that endeavor. But between 2008 and 2012, the nation went through a massive recession fueled by foreclosures and short sales and states like Nevada and Colorado were hit especially hard. But as hard as they were hit, the impacts of foreclosures and short sales in those states hit the Latino population even harder.
That led me to wonder how attitudes within the Latino community – especially those hit by the housing crisis – might look at the 2012 election and how the campaigns might try to appeal to those voters in swing counties within those states. It would be a question of whether Latinos in these areas would support Obama in the numbers that they did in 2008 or did enough lose their homes and livelihoods in the four years that they’d either vote Republican or not vote at all.
I decided to take two approaches in my IJJ fellowship proposal and subsequent stories in The Salt Lake Tribune. In Nevada, I wanted to see the impact of a short sale or foreclosure on a micro-targeted level and explore the ripple effects of the loss of one home and how that loss impacted people through a six degrees of separation approach. I was interested in exploring attitudes about the election as I followed the string on the impact of two brothers in the midst of being forced from their home in Reno, which is a swing county in the state of Nevada. Because the reporting required a strong jumping off point – the brothers and the house – there was little in the way of obstacles as I simply followed the trail of everyone who had links to the house until I reached the outer edges of the six degrees of separation idea, where I was able to end the story with another person in the midst of losing their home.
For Colorado, the initial plan was to replicate what the device in Reno and target Latinos in key swing counties. But that was the first real obstacle I hit. After discussion with editors, there was concern that a two-day package with a similar device might appear repetitive. I agreed and quickly found that another key issue within the Latino communities in Colorado was voter apathy. I spoke with my IJJ mentor and discussed the switch in focus on the Colorado portion of the project and she agreed with our conclusions and I went forward, trying to focus on Latino-heavy communities and noting areas of outreach to those voters by the campaigns.
The result was a two-day package that explored two critical swing states in the West and how the Latino vote may play out based on the impacts of the housing crisis as well as voter apathy. The Salt Lake Tribune ran Spanish-language versions online and we included a photo slide show as part of the package. It was well-received, prompting several radio interviews exploring the issues more in depth and we also did a follow up item on one of the key subjects in the Nevada piece as there was community interest in her journey through losing a home while becoming a U.S. Citizen who would be eligible to vote for the first time in 2012.
Because the 2012 election on the presidential level was not in question in Utah, where Mitt Romney easily defeated Obama, focus on neighboring states that were contested proved to be of great interest to the public. It was the kind of journalism that showed the paper was willing to broaden its reach with regional reporting on the high-profile race. However, it would’ve been a more difficult prospect for The Salt Lake Tribune to do the pieces without the IJJ fellowship. The fellowship was also instrumental in giving me a chance to broaden my sourcing for the stories as well as bounce ideas for framing the story off of professionals in the field, fellows at IJJ and speakers throughout the program. The IJJ fellowship gave me valuable contacts, resources and materials to complete not only my project but also for other stories on the immigration beat.