WASHINGTON - Some Democrats are fretting over polls suggesting that Joe Biden's presidential campaign isn't reaching Latino voters, missing an opportunity to connect over the response to the coronavirus pandemic that the group identifies as its biggest campaign issue. Or just to connect. Others are telling the worriers to relax.
As the Nov. 3 election approaches, the Democrats' glass-half-full, glass-half-empty hand-wringing underscores the importance of a group with historically low turnout but big enough numbers to swing the election in Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Donald Trump carried the first two states in 2016, and Hillary Clinton won the third.
Latinos make up at least 1 out of 5 of those states' eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. Biden would win if he flipped Florida and Arizona and every other state voted as it did in 2016.
But the former vice president has been lagging his predecessors, according to weekly tracking polls by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, and Latino Decisions. Biden is leading Trump nationally 64 to 24% among Latinos in those polls. That's a commanding lead, but his percentage is smaller than Clinton's 66% in 2016 and Obama's 71% in 2012.
The same tracking polls found that half of Latino households nationwide haven't been contacted by either campaign and that 80% are "almost certain" they will vote - which would shatter the average Latino turnout over the past few decades.
"I'm worried about them getting the basic information on how to vote, when to vote and whether Joe Biden is good," said Chuck Rocha, who founded Nuestro PAC to focus on reaching Latino Democrats in 2020.
Latinos are expected to be the largest minority in this year's election, with 13% of eligible voters. They tend to back Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center.
"The issues are relatively stable, with COVID-19 taking up the majority of Latinos' attention, and we expect this, obviously, to continue," said Stephen Nuno-Perez, communications director for Latino Decision. He said NALEO tracking polls that began last month show Biden ahead of Trump on favorability: positive 35 to negative 38.
Other recent surveys have found that Latinos have higher reported rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths and are suffering greater financial hardships inflicted by the disease.
But for Rocha, worrying about the policy message to take to Latino voters is less important than just talking to them a lot more. Biden's campaign is favoring advertising and other remote outreach over in-person events because of the pandemic. Rocha thinks the campaign needs to shift resources from targeting undecided white voters.