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A big year for Native American politics

December 3, 2018

In a historic midterm election that saw minority and women voters energized like never before, one of the major themes was the importance of the Native American population as both voters and candidates.

Several Native American candidates won important races, highlighted by two Native American women headed to Congress: Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) of New Mexico and Sharice Davids (Ho Chunk) of Kansas. Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee), both of Oklahoma, won re-election to Congress. Accentuating the success of Native American statewide candidates, Kevin Stitt (Cherokee) was elected governor of Oklahoma, and Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe) was elected as lieutenant governor of Minnesota. Forty-eight Native American and Alaska Native candidates won election to state legislative offices.

This rise in civic engagement occurred in areas where Native American voters were facing tremendous obstacles to participation, including a court ruling upholding the voter ID law in North Dakota that our research has found disproportionately burdens Native Americans.

The Latino Decisions Election Eve survey provides a unique opportunity to analyze Native American voting trends. This national survey found that 61 percent of Native American voters reported voting for a Democratic candidate for Congress.

Native American voters were, therefore, an important contributor to the blue wave that led to the Democratic Party gaining control of the House. There was a significant gender gap among Native American voters, with 67 percent of women reporting they voted for Democrats compared to 54 percent of Native American men.

This is consistent with women leaning more Democratic in their voting behavior in this election by wide margins across all racial and ethnic groups. Similarly, 72 percent of Native American women voters encouraged friends or family to register or vote, a rate 13 percentage points higher than Native American men. It is clear that there was a pink wave among Native American communities, as women were energized in this election as both voters and candidates.

This election saw young voters engage in civic engagement at a higher rate than usual, and across multiple indicators, Native American voters from 18 to 29 were the most politically active of all Native American age groups. In sum, 59 percent of young Native American voters encouraged friends or family to register or vote, 35 percent attended a protest or demonstration, and 27 percent volunteered for a candidate or a voter outreach drive.

Midterm congressional elections are always a referendum on the president and his party, but this election was uniquely tied to the polarizing agenda and campaign messaging of President Donald Trump. The survey provides several measures of the Native American electorate’s view of Trump and the Republican Party more broadly. The survey reveals that 58 percent of Native American voters in the 2018 election disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, while 45 percent strongly disapprove.

We also found that 61 percent of Native Americans have felt disrespected and 57 percent angered by something the president has said or done. These numbers provide some perspective on media accounts of many Native Americans feeling outrage over Trump’s lack of respect for the nation-to-nation relationship that shapes interaction between Native nations and the federal government, or the lack of respect for Native American cultural sites and lands.

If President Trump wants to increase his performance among Native American voters in 2020, he will need to revise his approach to health care. The Election Eve Survey indicates that the policy issue most Native American voters felt their community politicians should address was health care access and the costs of health care, at 32 percent.

This compares to 10 percent who reported that border security was the most important issue, the issue the president made his priority during the 2016 campaign. Health care is vital to Native Americans given the vast inequalities they face across nearly all health outcomes. The survey also found that 65 percent of Native Americans nationally want to see “Obamacare” strengthened.

Visit the following link for a more full discussion: https://nabpi.unm.edu/research.html

Gabriel R. Sanchez is a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, director of the UNM Center for Social Policy and co-founder of the UNM Native American Budget and Policy Institute. Other contributers include Laura E. Evans, University of Washington; Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations); Kimberly R. Huyser, University of New Mexico; and Yoshira Macias-Mejia, University of New Mexico.

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