Is climate change the new big election issue for Latino voters?

Oct 17, 2015

At the end of the summer, the polling firm, Latino Decisions, released the results of their 2015 Environmental Attitudes Survey. Of the Latinos polled, 74 percent said it was extremely or very important for the US government to “set national standards to prevent global warming and climate change.” 

“Latinos live in areas that are vulnerable to climate change. In fact, if you look at the Latino population, 49 percent of us live in coastal shoreline counties, compared to 39 percent of the general population. So we are starting to see the impacts, and we are starting to see them in our communities,” says Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a southeast climate advocate with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Another poll from The New York Times and Stanford University, conducted at the beginning of 2015, found that 54 percent of Latinos rated global warming as being extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of white respondents. 

“There are still too many politicians who have not gotten on board just yet,” Hammer says. “Climate change is a problem. It's going to happen in the future, it's happening now, so that needs to happen quickly.”

Climate change, for the Latino population that lives near the US coast, is an expensive problem, and it’s a problem that’s affecting public health. 

“It is very expensive. There's flooding that goes into homes and once the flooding recedes, the moisture that's inside some of the homes creates mold and affects people with asthma and other respiratory issues,” Hammer says. “There's a series of things that happen. Because of the inundation effect, some car companies no longer honor the warranty on the cars because of salt water damage.”

For Hammer, climate change is something personal. She and her family lived through Hurricane Andrew when she was a kid. 

“I think that [gave me an] understanding [of] the power of nature, and how it can completely change your life. We moved to a different town, I went to a different school. I was a teenager at the time, and my whole world changed,” Hammer says. “We were in the house when it was destroyed, and we lost everything. We just came out with our lives.”

For Hammer, getting politicians to care about climate change is a priority. 

“In the future we're going to get less storms but they're going to be more intense, and knowing how much the population has grown in Miami-Dade County like it has, and many other coastal communities across the country, you begin to think about what people are going to be dealing with in the future. And it's not just a one-time kind of event when you're dealing with sea level rise. That kind of inundation is the new normal. And the infrastructure that we have now was built for a time that we're no longer in. So we are not adequately prepared in this country to deal with this new normal.”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Science Friday with Ira Flatow