‘Latinx’ not the language of election victory

Poll shows new term not helpful to Democrats in wooing Latino voters

IT’S BECOME a popular new substitute, in some circles, for the term Latino, a gender-neutral word that is increasingly embraced in academia and among some progressive activists. But in the brass-tacks world of trying to win elections, making appeals to “Latinx” voters is a losing strategy, according to a new national poll of Latino voters. 

The term has come into vogue in the left-leaning world as an alternative to describing those of Latin American descent as “Latino,” which is the masculine form of the word in Spanish, where all nouns are gendered. 

But in the increasingly competitive battle for Latino votes, the term is not a way to win support. 

That’s the finding from a new national poll by ​​Bendixen & Amandi International, a top Democratic firm that specializes in Latino outreach. The survey of 800 Latino voters conducted last month showed that only 2 percent of Hispanic-Americans refer to themselves as “Latinx,” while 68 percent call themselves “Hispanic,” and 21 percent prefer “Latino” or “Latina,” the feminine form of the noun. 

What’s more, 40 percent of respondents said they are bothered by the use of the term Latinx and 30 percent said they would be less likely to support a candidate or organization that employed the term. 

“The numbers suggest that using Latinx is a violation of the political Hippocratic Oath, which is to first do no electoral harm,” Fernand Amandi, a principal with the polling firm, told Politico.  “Why are we using a word that is preferred by only 2 percent, but offends as many as 40 percent of those voters we want to win?” asked Amandi, whose firm advised Barack Obama on his successful Latino outreach in his two presidential campaigns. 

Wilnelia Rivera, a Boston-based political strategist, said growing up in working-class Lawrence, she had “a natural averse reaction” to the emergence of “Latinx.” 

“I appreciate academia as much as the next person,” said Rivera, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican background. Use of the term Latinx “has value in movement building spaces,” she said, noting that her firm, Rivera Consulting, does work with organizations using it. “But it doesn’t translate into politics,” she said.

State Rep. Andy Vargas of Haverhill, whose family is Dominican, said, “I use Latinx sometimes but mostly use Latino because that’s what I grew up with and is most commonly used in my community. Identity is messy, especially with a gendered language like Spanish. I have nothing against the term and feel that it is important to listen to folks who do feel more included by a non-gendered term.” But he said “bread and butter” issues of housing, income inequality, and health care are what people are most concerned within his district. 

Marisol Negrón, director of the Latino Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said the debate points to a bigger issue – the use of any single term as a “catch-all” to describe people with varying backgrounds and why language to describe them has become “such contested ground.” 

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Progressive political strategist Dan Cohen posted on Facebook in reaction to the Politico story and poll that he’s had “at least 100 conversations” on the topic in recent years. Cohen said he is always left with the same question when it comes to thinking about political campaigns: “Why would you ever use language that is even marginally alienating to some people when more common terms do the job better?” 

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a progressive Democrat from Acton whose district includes a wide swath of Metro West communities, posted in response to Cohen: “When I go to working-class Latino neighborhoods in Marlborough, if I used the term ‘Latinx’ it would be met with confusing looks by many voters.”