By Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for External Affairs at American Progress Action Fund.
As the race for the White House approaches the finish line, both presidential candidates are making a final push in the key battleground states. Puerto Ricans in Florida have been front and center as a key swing demographic candidates need to win the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes. However, less discussed is the political force that Puerto Ricans represent in the pivotal swing state of Pennsylvania. This state, which is being widely regarded as the potential kingmaker, has become one of the most contested amongst the Trump and Biden camps. In the previous election, Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 1 percent and all indications are that whomever takes the state in 2020 will do so again by taking a razor-thin margin of votes.
Latinos in Pennsylvania make up roughly 6 percent of the electorate which could be pivotal in a tight contest. Currently, Puerto Ricans make up more than two-thirds of the eligible Latino voters in the state. Moreover, according to Census data, Pennsylvania Puerto Ricans total around 493,000, of which 314,000 are eligible to vote.
What are key issues for these voters?
According to a recent Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPF) survey of Puerto Ricans in the U.S., the coronavirus response and discrimination against immigrants and Hispanics top the list of most pressing issues for Puerto Ricans in the 2020 election. Specifically, confidence in President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic — which has taken the lives of nearly 228,000 Americans — is paltry. On a scale of 0 to 10, 48 percent of Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania and Florida indicated that they have zero confidence in Trump regarding the COVID-19 emergency. This discontent with the current administration’s handling of the pandemic could potentially translate into support for Vice President Biden if he manages to boost Puerto Rican turnout. Most importantly, one of the main findings of the survey was that Puerto Rican identity matters a great deal to voters in this community. This data point should inform how to more effectively reach these voters, 70% of whom told pollsters they will definitely vote in this year’s elections. Yet most Puerto Rican voters surveyed (54%) said they have not been contacted by any political party or nonprofit regarding the elections.
With days until November 3, political leaders should acknowledge this key constituency and offer tangible proposals towards helping Puerto Rico and the stateside Puerto Rican community in Pennsylvania and other swing states. Candidates that can effectively seize this opportunity could potentially ensure the support they so desperately need to win over the much-contested Keystone State.