Marlina Delgado had never voted in a midterm election until Tuesday, nor had she been a party-line voter in presidential elections. In 2016, for instance, she was leaning toward Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio until Donald Trump won the nomination.
But this year was different.
Reacting largely to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and vilification of minorities, Delgado turned out on Tuesday at the Boulevard mall voting center and supported Democrats.
“We need America to be what it has been about in the past — a place where everyone has opportunity, not just the privileged,” said the Las Vegas resident, a first-generation American whose parents migrated here from Mexico.
In an election that served as a referendum on Trump, Delgado not only voted in opposition to the president but brought along her two voting-age daughters, who also oppose Trump’s agenda. Delgado’s girls in turn brought their small children to introduce them to the voting process, even though their first elections are several years off.
The picture of three generations of a family of Latino voters gathering at the mall site was a small snapshot of the national election, but it could be a glimpse of the shape of things to come not only in Nevada but across the U.S.
Neither Latinos nor young people have historically turned out in large numbers, especially in midterms, but this year early indications showed that both groups were more engaged. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials announced that it was expecting a 15 percent increase in voting by Latinos this year — 7.8 million compared to 6.8 million in 2014 — and a recent Pew Research poll showed that enthusiasm among Latino voters was up sharply heading into the election.
As for young voters, the numbers were powerful in Nevada, where early voting among young people was up 364 percent over 2014 levels.
Although it remains to be seen whether the trending will play out through tonight and will affect the congressional and state elections this year, a bigger turnout among those groups could have long-term effects on U.S. politics.
John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies for the Brookings Institution, says political science research shows that voters’ early leanings tend to stay with them as they get older. So voters who came of age in the 1980s, for instance, have a higher tendency to vote Republican because Ronald Reagan was a persuasive figure in that era.
Now, Hudak said, the young voters who became politically aware in the Obama era and now are experiencing Trump are likely to carry their attitudes with them as well.
“If you turned 18 during Donald Trump's first two years — especially if you're a young person of color — and you're seeing that racist messaging, that's going to touch you in a way that's going to make it much more likely for you not just to vote Democratic in 2018 or 2020 but to continue that tradition,” he said. “I think one of the things that Republicans underestimate is how important those early years are and what that type of messaging could do to a young voter in the long term. So 2018 might be a tough year for Republicans. But Donald Trump's rhetoric in these last three years might make it a lot of tough years for the next 30 or 40 years for Republicans.”
Meanwhile, if current trends continue, Nevada today will look like the U.S. in about 40 years in terms of ethnicity. That means the pool of eligible Latino voters will grow larger and larger, and in turn means that if those voters begin turning out in larger numbers the Democrats could make gains while Republicans pay a price for Trump’s racial extremism.
In polls among Latinos, Trump has been rated badly amid backlash over the administration’s handling of hurricane relief for Puerto Rico, separation of families at the border, ending of DACA and other anti-Latino actions and statements.
The Pew Research polling results showed that two-thirds of Latino adults reported that the Trump administration’s policies had been harmful to Latinos, while half had serious concerns about their “place in American society” with Trump as president. In addition, 63 percent of Latino voters said they preferred Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans, up from 57 percent in 2014.
Hudak said the party that can engage those voters, especially young ones, will make strides.
“I think parties and a lot of candidates say, ‘Young voters don't turn out, so why should I reach out to them?' he said. “And that creates a vicious cycle because the voters say, 'Well, the candidates aren't reaching out to me, so why should I turn out?’”
In Nevada, at least, the Democrats clearly have an upper hand in that regard, with organizations like NextGen America spurring voting among young voters overall and the Culinary Union energizing voters of color.
Hudak, who is visiting UNLV this week, said he was delighted to see students lined up at Lied Library for three days of early voting.
“These aren't just young voters, but a lot of young voters of color who oftentimes have much lower levels of turnout,” he said. “They're coming out to vote because they care so deeply about this election. It shows you that there is that drive among voters of color to stand up and say, 'I'm fed up.'
“And I think ground zero for that, not just in the state of Nevada but in the United States, is the Lied Library.”
While more information on voter demographics and how they affected the outcome will emerge in coming days, turnout among minority voters was surging at the Boulevard mall voting center where Delgado and her daughters cast their ballots.
At mid-morning, several hundred voters waited in line to go to the polls, with poll volunteers offering information on alternative sites to save voters from wait times that were estimated at 45 to 60 minutes. Minorities vastly outnumbered whites.
Delgado didn’t let the long line deter her.
She recounted how her parents worked undocumented in manual-labor jobs and saved their meager wages to provide a better life for her and her siblings. She said her parents later gained citizenship.
Now, with Trump and Republicans showing increasing hostility toward immigrants, Delgado is pushing back. She said she was also voting to counter conservative causes like establishing English as the official language and fighting what the right sees as a war on Christmas.
She said visitors had a right to speak their language and a right to practice their own religion.
“America is where people come to enjoy those freedoms,” she said. “We need to remember that.”