What’s on the minds of Colorado Latino voters heading into the midterms?

"I VOTED!" Seen at a Cañon City voting center. Oct. 27, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
“I VOTED!” as seen at a Cañon City voting center. Oct. 27, 2021.

Nearly 60 percent of Latino voters surveyed across Colorado say they think the United States as a whole is headed in the wrong direction, and half of respondents said their economic situation had gotten worse in the last 12 months. Adding to financial stresses are worries for safety — 83 percent said they are concerned their child could be a victim of a school shooting. 

These are just some of the results from a Colorado Latino Policy agenda poll taken earlier this summer.

The Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) partnered with Voces Unidas de las Montañas and their respective political action funds, to survey roughly 1,500 Latino voters, 44 percent described themselves as liberal, 40 percent moderate and 17 percent conservative. The groups that conducted the survey said the partisan distribution wasn’t intentional, but is simply reflective of the sample. Latinos in Colorado have historically tended to vote blue.

The Colorado Latino Policy agenda is designed to be non-partisan, but two of the action funds supporting it do endorse progressive candidates. 

“I think this data should be a slap in the face to many of us who are in this business to say, ‘we need to do better,’” said Alex Sánchez, the head of Voces Unidas de las Montañas. The Glenwood Springs-based nonprofit seeks to politically engage Latinos living in the central mountains. “It's the system that's the problem, and the data suggests that Latinos are not trustful of the political system.”

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
Alex Sánchez, head of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, said the survey results are a 'slap in the face' that policymakers need to do better by Colorado's Latino residents.

Sánchez noted that 58 percent of respondents said they had never been contacted by a candidate or any political organization or community group.

“That should tell us a lot that we need to know. And it's more investment, it's more intentionality and really educating and mobilizing Latino voters, regardless of affiliation,” said Sánchez.

Latino voters are a powerful political force in the state, especially in tight races. Latinos make up 22.3 percent of Colorado’s population, and voters in that group are far from a monolith. But while Colorado Latinos have strongly supported Democratic candidates, Republicans are hoping to make inroads this year

Worries for safety and the economy

Economic concerns were overwhelmingly the top issues Latino voters said they are worried about, from the rising cost of living and inflation to the economy and the need for better paying jobs. The next top issue was addressing gun violence and mass shootings.

CPR News has also been asking voters what issues candidates should focus on in the upcoming election. In interviews in Spanish, Vicki Guerrero of Denver and Esmeralda Guerrero Chavez of Thornton echoed many of the concerns highlighted by the survey.

"I want them to talk about high prices and gun safety," said Guerrero Chavez while eating lunch at a park in Thornton, "especially because of what has happened to children in schools."

Sitting nearby, Guerrero has a similar desire.

"I would also like a conversation about gun safety, that there be more gun control," she said.

Both women have lived in Colorado since the early '90s and describe themselves as moderates who plan to vote in the upcoming election. They said they’re feeling the pinch from spiking inflation and hope to see policymakers do something about it.

“What comes to mind right now in the last few months is the high prices," said Guerrero Chavez. "I go to the stores, and I pay attention to the prices. I think it has increased — if not doubled, let's say a third of the costs. That affects me as a family and, I believe, the entire population.”

For Republican voter Richard Montoya, who was picking up items at a Walmart in Lakewood, cost of living is also an issue. “Rent prices, that's kind of the biggest thing,” he said. 

The 37-year-old is a long-time Colorado resident and said he notices how it’s harder to get by in the state these days. “Everything's more expensive, but I guess that's everywhere," Montoya said.

In what are expected to be some of the state’s closest races, candidates are making particular appeals to Latino voters, launching Spanish-language ads and knocking on doors.

The Republican National Committee recently opened a Hispanic Community Center in Thornton, part of a national outreach effort to nonwhite communities. It’s strategically located in Colorado’s newly created 8th congressional district. It’s the congressional seat with the largest percentage of Latino voters, at nearly 40 percent, and also a swing seat. 

The Republican in the race, state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer has gotten help on the ground from the Koch-backed group, Libre Initiative Action, which focuses on mobilizing conservative Latino voters. The Democrat, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, is the child of Mexican immigrants, and Democratic groups are also hoping her personal background and policies are more in line with the district.

“I think C.D. 8 is an amazing opportunity for the Latino community, both because (of its) demographics… but also, we could have our first Latina Congresswoman, which would be so amazing and important,” said Dusti Gurule, the president of COLOR. 

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
Dusti Gurule is the president of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, one of the groups that sponsored the survey.

Gurule’s group is focused on expanding reproductive rights. In the poll 61 percent of respondents said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports increasing access to abortion and reproductive rights.