This is a republished concept paper by Lisa García Bedolla, Principal and Co-Founder of the American Majority Project Research Institute.
Weaving the Latino Civic Web in Nevada
The Problem: the Left Out
Nationally, there will be an estimated 27.3 Latinos eligible to vote in 2016. Of those, about 12.9 million are currently unregistered. Of those registered, 9.5 million are infrequent voters.* That means that 86% of eligible Latino voters in the United States are either unregistered or infrequent voters.
The story is similar in Nevada, where 328,000 eligible Latino voters live but 197,000 of those are currently unregistered. Of the registered, 91,948 are infrequent voters, meaning that 76% of Nevada’s eligible Latino voters are either unregistered or infrequent voters.
Thus, the scale of the problem is significant and requires significant investment in a coordinated campaign to weave and strengthen the Latino civic web. Our proposal is based on three propositions that arise from this research:
- Latinos hold strong social norms that voting is important;
- Latinos’ social networks currently contain little political information and/or conversation;
- It is not possible to hire sufficient paid staff to engage in outreach to all eligible and disengaged Latino voters.
The Solution: Weave a Latino Civic Web
In order to change the culture around Latino voter engagement in the short, medium and long term, we propose using a community-organizing framework to politicize Latino social networks. This would be a volunteer-led effort that would build on existing strengths within Latino communities and use paid staff to ensure strong accountability and provide the data metrics necessary to guide these efforts.
This effort would have three levels of personnel:
- Paid staff: (either in community organizations or campaigns)
Instead of directly mobilizing voters, paid staff would be responsible for identifying and recruiting neighborhood team leaders, supervising their work in the field, incorporating their (and block captains’) feedback into field plans, and providing the volunteer leaders with the lists, metrics, and other information they need to most efficiently engage their target voters.
2. Neighborhood Team Leaders:
Neighborhood Team Leaders will be Latino leaders who volunteer for an organization/campaign who take responsibility for mobilizing a particular “turf,” recruit block captains, and provide feedback to paid staff regarding the best way to mobilize target voters.
3. Block captains:
Latino volunteers who are identified as leaders by their team leaders and who take responsibility for mobilizing a smaller set of voters. They are responsible to the team leaders and paid staff for hitting and sustaining the targets on their “block.” They also provide feedback regarding their experiences in the field, helping to refine and hone the organization/campaign’s field program.
For Nevada, the long-term targets would be the 288,948 unregistered and infrequent Latino eligible voters in the state. Clearly, these voters cannot be engaged overnight. The primary mechanism through which this change needs to happen is through Latino social networks. Just as voting has been shown to influence household members’ voting patterns, politicizing network members will have an exponential impact on Latino eligible voter engagement.
To do that, we need to identify the neighborhood team leaders and block captains that will engage in the relationship building necessary to engage these eligible voters.
In Nevada, 97,963 Latinos voted in November 2012. We estimate that we could increase that vote by as much as 30% (29,400 voters) in November 2016. As an example, if the average turnout rate of these target voters in a presidential election was 50%, and we assume this kind of deep, network-based engagement could lead to a 20% increase in that turnout rate (double what could be expected from a well run door-to-door canvass effort), then such an effort could produce, as a low estimate, 29,400 new Latino voters in November 2016.
To do this, we would need to identify:
- 490 Neighborhood Team Leaders (each responsible for turning out 100 voters, or about 20 families, with a 60% success rate)
- 980 Block Captains (each responsible for turning out 50 voters, or about 10 families, with a 60% success rate)
This infrastructure would not disappear between elections, but rather would continue and deepen during and between electoral cycles. As an example, if in preparation for 2018 we ask each Neighborhood Team Leader and Block Captain to recruit one volunteer to serve in the same role, we would easily double the size of our volunteer network, potentially doubling the number of voters who will be engaged in 2018. Table 1 shows what that ongoing growth could look like over time, nearing our target number in six short years, by 2022.**
If each paid staff supervises 10 Neighborhood Team Leaders and 20 Block Captains, we would need to hire 49 paid staff in 2016. Assuming an annual salary of $30,000 per year [plus 30% benefits] that would total just under $1.5 million (see Table 2). Since many of these staff already are employed by community organizations, that cost will likely be lower. It is also significantly less than what is often spent on media buys during each electoral cycle. And the difference here is the infrastructure remains after the election, which is not the case with paid media.
The heavy lifting will be in identifying and recruiting the first round of team leaders. Given the strong value we found that parents, particularly mothers, have for enforcing Latino social norms around voting, we suggest focusing the first round of volunteer development on female Latinas over age 40 that have Catalist 2014 General Election vote propensities greater than 70. There are a total of 12,053 Latinas in Nevada who fit those criteria. Of those, 9,366 live in Clark County; 1,631 live in Washoe County. Additional criteria may be added in each locale as needed, in response to the evolution of each effort and the needs of each organization/campaign.
Because these are iterative conversations, these efforts need to build and sustain feedback loops in order to be most effective. Volunteer leaders must be held accountable by staff to meet their targets. In order to sustain their engagement, they need to feel their input and feedback are helping to shape subsequent iterations of the campaign. Therefore, the relationships that develop between staff and volunteer leaders, and the communications systems put into place to sustain them, will be key to the long term success of this effort.
Latinos, like most Americans, are feeling tremendous economic anxiety and have a deep distrust of politicians and their motives. Therefore, these relationship-building conversations need to meet these Latinos where they are and provide the scaffolding they need in order to engage politically.
We found Latinos believe voting is very important. We also found that they find the act of voting confusing and difficult, and at times even overwhelming. Standard GOTV messages presume that the voter knows how to vote, what to vote for, and why that matters for their day-to-day lives. Because of their confusion about the voting process and the lack of readily available information about voting in their social and community networks, many Latinos need help making the connection between their belief in the norm of voting and what happens in the voting booth. Therefore, mobilization strategies need to provide Latinos with the scaffolding necessary to connect their strong values about voting to the actualization of their vote.
We need multiple messages delivered over time as part of a relationship-building process led by similarly situated Latino volunteer leaders. Those messages need to include:
- Education about how the political system works;
- A focus on the issues target voters care about and how government can help address those issues;
- Information that highlights local “wins” and other instances of collective action working to make a difference;
- Concrete information about electoral issues that will help Larino voters feel confident about their ability to make good decisions in the voting booth.
Messages should not:
- Assume there is one “Latino” identity that will drive political engagement;
- Cue family values without substantive connections between family needs and voting;
- Frame issues as “us” versus “them”;
- Focus on symbols rather than substance.
A recent comprehensive study of the role of technology in mobilizing low propensity Latino voters made clear that these strategies may be useful for information sharing but they are not effective in turning out voters (Abrajano, García Bedolla, and Junn 2015).
Given the large proportion of Nevada’s eligible Latino voters who are under age 30, the development of a social media platform that allows Latino youth in Nevada to share and produce political information could be important for sustaining these relationships between electoral cycles and helping to mobilize their households.
*For the purposes of this report, an infrequent voter is defined as one that voted in 0 or 1 of the 2010, 2012, 2014 general elections.
** We do not assume staffing levels have to double each cycle as a product of staff’s ongoing relationship building and comfort with the volunteer leaders.