Convergence and The Forge interviewed organizers around the country by email, asking for their short takes on the midterm elections. Here, Make the Road Action leaders reflect on their experiences organizing Latinx voters in Pennsylvania and Nevada.
Make the Road Action (MRA) builds political power rooted in working-class Latinx communities, promotes policy solutions that improve the lives of all working-class and low-income people, and strengthens the movement for justice through electoral and grassroots organizing to advance progressive political and policy change.
What’s an organizing success that you had during the midterms that gives you hope?
In the lead up to November’s elections, reporters were abuzz with stories about a substantial decline in support among Latine voters for Democratic candidates, which would likely be enough to give Republicans control of both the Senate and the House. This came as the GOP spent substantial sums on outreach and communications to Latine communities, even opening up field offices in swing state communities like Allentown and Reading, Pennsylvania, where they had not been before.
Our chief electoral organizing challenge was to prevent Latine voters in our communities from succumbing to the divisive fear-mongering of MAGA Republicans. And we’re proud to say that, in our two battleground states (Pennsylvania and Nevada), we succeeded in those efforts. In Pennsylvania in 2020, the most accurate exit poll of Latine voters found that 7 of 10 of them voted for Joe Biden for President. In 2022, the most accurate exit poll of Latine voters found that 7 of 10 of them voted for John Fetterman for Senate. Similarly, in Nevada, the level of Latine support for Biden in 2020 (2 out of 3) was nearly identical to that for Cortez Masto in 2022.
Of course, there were state and regional differences across the country, including some regions where Democrats lost ground among Latine voters, but we’re proud of the work our members and staff did to hold the line against MAGA Republicans in our states. As we await final voter file data, we’re confident that this success lay in our multi-mode approach to voter contact coupled with energetic organizing that 1) called out the threats from election denialism and voter suppression and 2) set a hopeful tone of voting as a celebration.
We’re also proud to lift up our success in electing members and closely aligned candidates in key down-ballot offices. In Nevada, Cisco Aguilar became Nevada’s first Latine Secretary of State and the first Make the Road member to win statewide office. Make the Road member Fabian Doñate made history by becoming the youngest State Senator elected and then the youngest co-majority whip in Nevada. And in Pennsylvania, we helped elect the first Latina to the Pennsylvania State House: Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz.
What was the most effective message or tactic that the other side used? How did you try to combat it? Were you successful?
Republicans hammered away on the issue of inflation and blamed it on President Biden. This attack line was disingenuous at best—of course, Republicans offered no real solutions to solve the problem—but it did resonate for many voters suffering from rising prices and wages that haven’t kept pace.
We tried to combat (and/or inoculate against) their message by starting where voters were—namely, at the economic pain of the moment. We adapted the helpful “protect our freedoms” messaging, which accurately portrayed the election as a choice between MAGA Republicans seeking to take away our freedoms and Democrats seeking to protect and expand them. We began by recognizing the economic challenges people were facing and laying out the clear contrast between Democrats who presented real solutions on these issues and Republicans who stood in the way while trying to attack our democracy. Below is the script of one of our Spanish radio ads in Pennsylvania (we ran a near-identical ad in Nevada) on which we got particularly positive feedback:
“Nuestras familias están sufriendo. Los salarios no alcanzan, los costos de la vivienda y la comida suben, y no tenemos acceso a cuidado médico. Necesitamos trabajos con salarios dignos, y viviendas y atención médica a nuestro alcance. Los líderes demócratas apoyan soluciones para cumplir con nuestras necesidades, mientras los republicanos MAGA se oponen y atacan nuestra comunidad, nuestra democracia, y hasta la autonomía corporal. Estamos luchando para proteger nuestra libertad y mostrar el poder de nuestra comunidad. Es hora de elegir líderes que prioricen las necesidades de las familias trabajadoras. ¡Este 8 de noviembre votemos por Josh Shapiro para Gobernador y John Fetterman para Senado! Shapiro y Fetterman luchan por trabajos bien pagados para todos, comenzando con un aumento del salario mínimo a $15. También apoyan inversiones grandes en la vivienda asequible y la salud. Este 8 de noviembre, vota por Josh Shapiro y John Fetterman. Juntos hemos logrado muchas victorias, es hora de lograr más.”
Translated to English:
Our families are suffering. Our jobs don’t pay enough, while the cost of housing and food rises, and many of us lack access to health care. We need jobs that pay a living wage and affordable housing and health care. democratic leaders support solutions to meet our needs, while MAGA Republicans oppose them and attack our community, our democracy, and even bodily autonomy. We are fighting to protect our freedoms and show the power of our community. It’s time to elect leaders who put the needs of working families first. this november 8th let’s vote for Josh Shapiro for Governor and John Fetterman for Senate! Shapiro and Fetterman are fighting for good-paying jobs for all, starting with a minimum wage increase to $15. They also support large investments in affordable housing and health care. This November 8th, vote for Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman. Together we’ve won many victories. Now it’s time to win more.
What did you think was going to work that didn’t work?
The core of our voter contact work has always been person-to-person organizing, which works best at voters’ doors. While we remained committed to this tactic and knocked on nearly 400,000 doors across our states, we also noticed early on that our contact rates were lower than we expected, and we needed to adjust. We worked to increase those contact rates and were able to improve them; we added a daily phone bank with 20-25 callers who made a total of 700,00 calls. But in speaking to many partners on the ground, we realized that other similar programs were also facing more challenges getting people to open their doors than in previous cycles. We recognized that we needed to increase our efforts (and investments) in other modes of voter contact to reach different subsets of our voter universe—for instance, Spanish-language radio ads for older monolingual and bilingual Latine voters, and a TikTok/Instagram influencer program to reach younger voters of color. That flexibility paid off.
What did you learn through the midterms that we can use in the next phase of the fight against the MAGA right?
We were alarmed to see the increased investment from MAGA world (both the GOP itself and aligned groups like Stephen Miller’s dark money outfit, Citizens for Sanity) boosting their communications efforts in Spanish. We have always done our organizing and communications work in Spanish, but we invested more this cycle in paid media in Spanish than we ever have before. We believe that these investments—coupled with larger Democratic spending in Spanish than in prior cycles—paid off, but we can’t be complacent. As we continue to prioritize our field infrastructure to have strong one-on-one conversations with Latine voters, we need to continue to raise and spend resources on the Spanish-language airwaves.
It’s also worth noting that organizing work earlier in the cycle to ensure a full, fair Census count and fair redistricting across our states was critical to ensuring down-ballot outcomes. In Pennsylvania, for example, we faced aggressive GOP efforts to prevent our communities from being counted or represented fairly. A broad coalition in the state conducted large-scale Census outreach and pushed back on gerrymandering attempts, leading to maps that were more representative of the BIPOC communities where we organize—and where all of the population growth in Pennsylvania has been over the last decade. This proved crucial to Democrats flipping the Pennsylvania state house and holding key U.S. House seats. Moving forward, it will be critical for our movement to remain deeply involved in census and redistricting work across our states—both defensively, to prevent MAGA extremists from rigging the political map to consolidate decades-long control of legislatures and the U.S. House and, offensively, to ensure the communities we organize can assert their political power.