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How Important Are The Black And Latino Votes In This Election?

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Two vital constituencies of the Democratic Party - African Americans and Latinos - but two very different candidates they're backing. We're joined now by two political scientists, Christina Greer and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, to help explain how this might play out in what has become essentially a race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

Welcome to the program.

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Thank you.

CHRISTINA GREER: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christina, we'll start with you. In the first tests of states with significant black populations, black voters turned out big for Joe Biden. What's driving that support?

GREER: Well, indeed. I mean, he has James Clyburn to thank, first and foremost.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right.

GREER: But black voters are strategic and pragmatic. And I think that a lot of black voters are thinking very seriously about November 3. I think that they see Donald Trump as a real threat. And I think that, you know, Joe Biden may not be the most perfect vessel. But of the choices they were given, I think a strategic choice was made that he would be the one that could galvanize sort of establishment support and face Donald Trump in November.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, you mentioned Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. And he said when endorsing Biden, I am fearful of the future of this country. That clearly is something that is driving African Americans who, specifically in the South, of course, have experienced discrimination, racism, the legacy of Jim Crow.

GREER: Right. But I mean, we have to remember, as Malcolm X said, all - you know, anything south of the Canadian border is the U.S. South. And so oftentimes, we like to put race and racism on the U.S. South. But what's really key is when James Clyburn said, we know Joe, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he knows us.

GREER: And he knows us. And that is the specific line where - does Bernie Sanders know us?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Victoria, Sanders has gotten a big boost from Latino support in Nevada and other states. What do some Latinos see in Sanders?

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Right. So zooming out, we see that he had a huge victory when it came to the Latino electorate. Now, where does that support come from? It's a combination of, number one, a very intense and well-coordinated ground game. There's also the piece of health care.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because it's always been a huge issue for Latinos.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Well, yeah. And Latinos are the most underinsured population. So when a Bernie Sanders comes out and says, we want health care for all, that is a particularly strong message that resonates with Latinos. And then, you know, Biden did not come into Texas and California and court the Latino vote. I'm not saying he didn't want to, but he didn't have the resources to do it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christina, my question is about enthusiasm and voter turnout. The black vote is crucial in many of the states that are going to decide who becomes the next president of the United States. I mean, is there enthusiasm for Joe Biden enough to really motivate people to come out from the black community?

GREER: Well, I mean, we have a long road to November. But you know, when black turnout is low, we also have to look at some of the institutional barriers that...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course.

GREER: ...Are put in front of black voters. You know, we saw this in Texas, where the black and Latinx communities - many of their polling places have been systematically closed. I think sometimes, you know, a lot of pressure is placed on black shoulders to carry the Democratic Party across the finish line. We need to make sure that Joe Biden is speaking articulately about issues that black Americans and Latinx communities in places like Michigan and Wisconsin care about. And I think it'll really be an articulation of ideas and values to make sure people know that we have imperfect candidates, but anything is better than another four years of the Republican administration under Donald Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Victoria, same question to you but the reverse. I mean, there's always been this expectation that the Latino vote is going to be crucial. It's a huge constituency, largest minority voting in the 2020 election. Are we going to see them coming out in big numbers if Bernie Sanders is the nominee and if Joe Biden is the nominee?

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: So we know that Latinos have historically been the group that's least likely to turn out and vote. We did see a blip on the radar screen in 2018, a jump of about 50% turnout for Latinos, which seemed to indicate there might be something going on here. So I'm cautiously optimistic that we see a pattern of Latinos turning out to vote in greater numbers because we know from political science that when someone turns out to vote, they're more likely to do it again and also that the stakes have become so high in this election for many of the issues that Latinos care the most about, namely health care, inequality and immigration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Finally, to you both - I mean, looking beyond 2020, I mean, we are most likely going to have a battle between President Trump and, you know, a septuagenarian white man. That has been a great disappointment to many within the Democratic Party, specifically communities of color. What has gone well, and what do you think needs to change further?

GREER: Well, I think after 2020, the Democratic Party really needs to look at itself and ask how it was that they had over 20 candidates, many of whom - women, people of color, highly qualified - and those candidates of color were oftentimes the first to have to drop out of the race. That's going to be a hard conversation going forward in 2024.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Victoria.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: I think the fact that we have an Iowa and then a New Hampshire first very much hurts candidates of color. Order matters, so if we can work on changing the institutional rules that govern our primary system, I think it will give candidates of color a better shot.

GREER: I agree with you, Vicky. And I think that there's still too much emphasis on this amorphous white, working-class voter that people are still chasing. And they need to actually start tapping into black, Latinx and Asian voters, many of whom are still sitting on the sidelines because no one's bothered to ask them to participate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christina Greer is a political scientist with Fordham University's Lincoln Center. And Victoria DeFrancesco Soto is an assistant dean for civic engagement at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Thank you both very much.

GREER: Thank you.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.