National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)

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Board of Directors
José R. Sánchez
   Chair
Edgar DeJesus
   Secretary
Israel Colon
   Treasurer
Maria Rivera
   Development Chair

Hector Figueroa

Tanya K. Hernandez
 Angelo Falcón
   President


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NiLP Commentary
The Presidential Debates
and Latino Issues
By Angelo Falcón
The NiLP Report (September 25, 2016)
 
As the Presidential candidates approach their first national debate on September 26th, there is a need to identify the most pressing issues they need to address. This debate, being held at Hofstra University is being moderated by NBC's Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, who selected three topics - America's direction, achieving prosperity and securing America - to cover during the debate, but noted that they were subject to change based on news events. This will be followed by a second debate on October 9th and a third on October 19th.Given the importance of the Latino vote and the focus on the immigration issue, the Commission on Presidential Debates that organizes these debates has been criticized for not including any Latinos among the debate moderators.
 
In August, NiLP asked 389 Latino opinion leaders from 31 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico which they thought were the most important issue facing the Latino community today. All three groups --- the Mexican, Puerto Rican and Other Latino opinion leaders --- viewed "The failure of the public school system to adequately educate Latino youth" as the top issue. For the Other Latino opinion leaders, "the high Latino poverty rate" was also seen as the top issue (which was second highest among the Puerto Ricans).
 
For the Mexican opinion leaders, "the broken immigration system" was seen as the second most important issue. Overall, this is another example how, despite its importance as a wedge issue during the Presidential campaign, immigration reform is not the top or single issue identified by Latinos. The top concerns, as expressed by these Latino opinion leaders are education and economic issues, with immigration more important to the Mexican opinion leaders than the others.
 
Other issues that are currently constantly in the media, such as gun violence, police-community relations and mass incarceration, the Zika virus in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico debt crisis did not make it to the top of the lists of the Latino opinion leaders.
 
Latino Opinion Leaders were asked:
Of the following, which one do you feel is the most important issue facing the Latino community today?
Source: NiLP's National Latino Opinion Survey: August 2016
 
Puerto Rican
Mexican
Other Latinos
The failure of the public school system to adequately educate Latino youth
28.6%
38.3%
21.7%
The high Latino poverty rate
23.0%
14.9%
21.7%
The broken immigration system
10.1%
26.6%
20.3%
Latino concentration in low-wage jobs
17.5%
12.8%
18.8%
The $72 billion debt crisis of Puerto Rico
15.7%
1.1%
2.9%
The growing dangers of climate change
0.5%
2.1%
7.2%
Police brutality in Latino communities
0.9%
1.1%
2.9%
The mass incarceration of Latinos
0.5%
1.1%
1.4%
The problem of gun violence
0.5%
 
1.4%
The terror threat from ISIS
0.0%
1.1%
0.0%
The Zika virus problem in Puerto Rico
0.9%
0.0%
0.0%
Don't know
0.5%
0.0%
0.0%
Not sure
1.4%
1.1%
1.4%
Total
100.0%
100.0%
100.0%
 
Will all of these issues be addressed in the Presidential debates? Besides the issue of immigration, the other issues identified as most important by the Latino opinion leaders seem to, at the moment, have a low or no priority among the Presidential candidates debating tomorrow.
 
In this unorthodox Presidential race, the absence of substantive policy debates has been most prominent as the focus has been on personalities and the horse race. Of major concern in the Latino community has been the media's "normalizing" of a Trump candidacy that the Latino community has in the great majority condemned as racist and divisive. The stakes for Latinos are, therefore, very high as the Latino leadership increasingly believes that Trump can win in November. Just within one month --- mid-August to mid-September --- Latino opinion leaders we polled reversed themselves in feeling that they currently feel Trump can beat Clinton in November.

 
When discussing issues affecting the Latino community, many Latino leaders feel the need to state that "Latino issues are American issues." This attempt to integrate the Latino into the American experience rhetorically has clearly not been successful in the real world, as the current political discourse proves. The challenge, I would argue, is to "voltear la torilla" and make sure that American issues include Latino issues. After all, nobody today seems to be buying that we are all equally "American," even if we are. Let's see if "Latino issues" come up in tomorrow's debate in ways that help or hurt our community.    
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The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to editor@latinopolicy.org.