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Latinx Voters key to Dems flipping Central Valley seats & keeping U.S. House

SactoPolitico | May 22, 2022 | Irene Kao and Hatzune Aguilar

Central Valley birthed the United Farm Workers, whose organizing leadership continues to define California. Yet, the region has long been miscast in political terms as a moderate monolith, which directly translates into a lack of significant investments in Central Valley communities – especially Latinx communities – by Democrats. The region is currently represented at the state and national level by Republicans and Democrats who vote like Republicans, which (as we discovered) is everything but representative of its constituents. 

The 2022 elections present an opportunity for Democrats to invest in Latinx voters in the Central Valley to flip Republican congressional seats blue and support a wave of younger, progressive Latinx Democrats running for state offices. Latinxs are the largest voting population in the newly drawn congressional districts 21 (53%) and 22 (59%), and Latinas, in particular, generally vote at higher rates.

Recent polling in these districts – both now Democratic-leaning – Courage California and Communities for a New California found that Central Valley voters are more likely to identify as liberal (36% in CD21, 42% in CD22) than moderate (35% in CD21, 34% in CD22) or conservative (29% in CD21, 23% in CD22). In CD22. In particular, Latinx voters are more likely to identify as liberal (52%) than white (32%) or Black (26%) voters. 

CD21 CD22

Additionally, most voters are planning to vote in the June 7 primary election (74% in CD21 and 83% of CD22), and an overwhelming majority encourage their kids, relatives, family, and other community members to vote (76% in CD21, 82% in CD22). However, the majority do not know who is running to be their future congressional representative (66% in CD21, 71% in CD22). 

Polling results confirm what Communities for a New California and other Central Valley organizations and leaders have known and stressed – the San Joaquin Valley, which contains both CD21 and CD22, is key for Democrats to build greater state and national power. More to the point, Democrats would be wise to invest in engaging and turning out Latina voters, and well beyond the midterm elections. A number of polling and focus groups conducted throughout the state, including ours, have found that Latinas are more civically engaged and influential in their households and networks, as compared to their Latino counterparts.

But Democrats should be careful to heed this important message – not any Democrat candidate (Latinx or otherwise) will be enough to inspire San Joaquin Valley Latina voters to vote and turn out their communities. This is a base of voters who are personally experiencing the economic fallout of the pandemic, bleak job opportunities, a housing crisis that is pushing their families out of their homes, and the climate change crisis in the form of toxic drinking water and pervasive health issues (from fires, drought, and pesticides use). The road to elected office in the Central Valley will be by addressing the issues Latina voters care about, as opposed to just catering to them with general values and on identity, as Democrats seem to rely too much on currently. 

If Democrats only focus on winning a seat and not how that elected should work with Central Valley communities once they are in office, they’ll lose the trust of voters and have to keep starting from square one each time. 

It’s time for Democrats to stop taking Central Valley voters – especially Latina voters – for granted and invest in engagement for the long term. The Central Valley is not only the pathway to victory, it’s the pathway to sustaining lasting and real change led by progressive leaders and voters in the region. Any party or leader who ignores this does so at their own peril. 

Irene Kao & Hatzune Aguilar

Irene Kao is executive director of Courage California, a statewide progressive organization uniting communities for progressive change, to fight corruption, and press elected officials “to act with courage on behalf of all Californians.” Hatzune Aguilar is director of strategic engagement for Communities for a New California, which is working across California to end “the stealing, excluding and exploiting people of color.”