Florida has more Hispanic voters than ever before. Will they vote in 2022?

Hispanics are 2nd largest voting bloc in Florida

A "vote here" sign. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Robert Negrete spends his days trying to get people to register to vote, even though he can’t vote himself.

The field director for Mi Familia Vota is a Venezuelan refugee, still waiting for his citizenship interview. He said he recognizes the value of being able to vote.

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“I came from Venezuela. Over there it was important to vote, but once these guys took over, everybody said, ‘you know what, I don’t want to vote because I know they have election fixes,’” Negrete said.

“That’s where the problems start,” he added. “They don’t go to vote, and if you don’t vote, someone else is gonna do it for you.”

Negrete said his nonpartisan group registered almost 18,000 new voters for the upcoming election alone, with their focus on Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters represent around one-seventh of the state’s total voters.

The question is, will they actually vote?

Where do Florida’s Hispanic voters come from?

The Hispanic population is the fastest growing in the country, and it’s not the monolithic voting bloc people make it out to be.

Florida’s population of Hispanic voters grew by more than 500,000 from 2016 to August 2022, according to records from the Florida Division of Elections, with that growth spread fairly evenly between Democratic, Republican and no-party-affiliate voters.

“I’ve been saying for years, not to look at particularly Hispanics, Latinos as a bloc, because of the enormous diversity,” said Dr. Luis Martinez-Fernandez, professor of history at the University of Central Florida.

In Florida, and particularly Central Florida, Puerto Ricans make up the largest “immigrant” Hispanic population — they are already U.S. citizens, so they don’t have to go through the naturalization process like other groups.

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According to the National Partnership for New Americans, from 2016 to 2020, Florida gained 3,429,017 newly naturalized citizens, the fifth highest in the country. Of those 79% were from the Americas.

Cubans do make up the largest naturalized citizen population in that four-year period, followed distantly by Haiti, Colombia, Jamaica, Venezuela, Mexico and Dominican Republic.

In Florida, it’s not surprising that the Miami, Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area has the largest immigrant population. The Tampa Bay area ranks second, and Metro Orlando ranks third, with 273,294 naturalized immigrants between 2016 and 2020.

More immigrants are getting naturalized

More immigrants than ever are getting naturalized, a process that can take years.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, 814,000 people were naturalized in 2021, 30% more than in 2020 (when the pandemic was at its height), and 10% more than the 2011, 2019 average of 742,000.

“I think that some of the motivating forces are a sense, maybe false, that unless you’re a citizen, your status is not really secure in this country,” Martinez-Fernandez said. “Which is not completely true if you’re a resident, a legal resident, you’re sort of here until you want to stay, but there’s some thinking along those lines given the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been displayed over the last couple of years.”

Martinez-Fernandez thinks that some have also become very patriotic about America, and have decided they want the full benefits of citizenship.

According to Pew Research Center, naturalized citizens made up one in ten eligible voters in the U.S. in 2020 – more than 23 million.

In Florida, those newly-naturalized citizens represented a larger population than the margin of votes separating former President Trump from President Biden in the 2020 presidential election – 371,686 votes.

There were 429,017 naturalized citizens in Florida in 2020, according to NPNA.

Who do Hispanic voters support?

Hispanic voters come from such diverse backgrounds, and different groups approach American political ideologies in different ways.

“In terms of the attitudes, I think too much has been made of the fact that Cubans dislike, hate I would use, socialism and communism,” Martinez-Fernandez said. “Too much has been made of that because we’re particularly looking at those who have come to this country since the 1990s. They’re not the entrenched, so-called historical wave of Cuban exiles that came during the 60s, 70s and even into the 80s. They’re different, for one thing, they’re sick and tired of politics, whatever color it may be. They have endured that in Cuba for a long time.”

Martinez-Fernandez said while it’s true that Cubans tend to vote Republican, in 2014 former President Barack Obama got more votes from the Cuban population that Republican challenger Mitt Romney did.

“The younger, newer Cuban immigrants, I don’t want to say overwhelmingly, but they lean Democratic,” Martinez-Fernandez said.

He says the Republican Party’s anti-communist rhetoric has had the effect of stopping that push to the left, and Cubans are starting to move back toward the GOP, but not in an overwhelming fashion.

Venezuelans escaping the Maduro regime are also more receptive to that anti-communist rhetoric.

“The indicators that I have found is that they may be as much, if not more, inclined to vote Republican,” Martinez-Fernandez said. “I haven’t heard much in terms of liberalism among them.”

Puerto Ricans historically vote Democratic, but they also tend to register to vote as no-party-affiliate voters more than any other party.

“I think that, you know, when Trump went to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and tossed those paper towels at the people… I think that Puerto Ricans have not forgotten that,” Martinez-Fernandez said. “And that cost, what I believe, was a slight increase in Central Florida, of Puerto Ricans going even more Democratic.”

Nationwide, according to Pew Research Center, 64% of Hispanics are registered Democrat, with 33% registered Republican.

Pew also says 71% of Hispanics are more likely to believe Democrats work hard for Hispanic voters, compared to 45% believing the same for Republicans.

In Florida, according to the Florida Division of Elections, no party affiliate voters represent the largest bloc of Hispanic voters in the state as of August 2022, at 939,737. Democrats have the next highest group of Hispanic voters, at 902,744 voters, but that number has fallen from a high of 947,853 voters in November 2020.

Republicans have 676,826 Hispanic voters, a gain of roughly 36,000 voters from November 2020.

What issues matter to Hispanic voters?

Many people automatically assume that Hispanic voters care a lot about immigration, and it is important but it’s far from the number one issue, both Fernandez and Negrete say.

Like all Americans, the economy is number one, along with education and crime.

Martinez-Fernandez said relations with Cuba are still important to Cuban-Americans. He said Obama’s efforts in 2014 to normalize relations with Cuba did not sit well with this group.

“The sense was… Obama was making all of these concessions, and Cuba is not moving a single inch toward democratization,” Martinez-Fernandez said. “So, that I think explains why Trump was able to get, you know, considerable Cuban votes.”

Negrete, meanwhile, said the candidate who can identify a solution to dealing with the status of so many immigrants in the country, himself included, will be a winner. That includes the backlog of people with refugee status trying to become citizens. Negrete said he’s been waiting for his interview for almost 5 years for his residency.

“I didn’t expect to immigrate from my country, run from my country, flee from my country,” Negrete said. “I had my career there, my wife too. So yeah, definitely, I feel that somebody has to take care of it, find a good way to do it, resolve everybody at the same time.”

Abortion also may be a motivator in November among Hispanics because they can be values voters, not just among traditional Catholics but the evangelicals who tend to be more conservative.

Younger Hispanic voters who grew up in the country, especially those who went to college, tend to be more liberal.

According to Pew, 57% say abortion should be legal in at least some cases, while 40% say abortion should be illegal in most, if not all cases.

But will they vote?

Martinez-Fernandez predicts that we will see a larger percentage of Hispanic voters come out than usual for a midterm election.

“In the last midterm election, the participation of the Latin American vote was 12%,” said Negrete with Mi Familia Vota. “That’s really low for our expectations.”

Negrete said education can often be the biggest barrier to getting out the vote, because these immigrants are not used to America’s political system.

“These different backgrounds have different systems have different systems and it’s difficult for those people to understand how it works here,” Negrete said. “We always put the example for Puerto Rico, they have like a general election for everybody every four years and that’s it. But here you have like a continual election, like for governor and then you have the presidential, each one with a very big impact in America.”

Negrete said sometimes people are shocked to know there are these other big elections.

Mi Familia Vota says it is working on going door-to-door, getting people to vote, but getting that information out is most important, and candidates need to do more to connect to voters as well.

“We love democracy, we love liberty, but we need to understand that we can do good going to vote every year and every election,” Negrete said.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.