Are Latino voters trending Republican?
Depending on whom you ask or what poll you look at, the answer is yes, no, or maybe.
The case toward “yes” is getting stronger.
Let’s start by looking at why this matters.
First, In the 2020 election, eligible Latino voters reached 32 million, 13.3% of eligible voters. Eligible Black voters only accounted for 12.5% of the U.S. electorate. While the Black population is expected to grow slightly as a percentage of the country’s population, the Latino share is forecast to soar, reaching 100 million, or 26% of the population, by 2050.
Second, Latino voters are especially concentrated in some crucial swing states, including Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada. If Latinos there vote in greater numbers for Republicans, Democratic presidential candidates will face a rough time in the electoral college. It could also determine which party holds the majority in both chambers of Congress.
Third, if Democrats ever hope to win Texas, they will need extensive support from Latinos. Meanwhile, for Republicans to hold onto the Lone Star State, something that’s crucial for a GOP presidential win, Republicans must win a sizable percentage of the Latino vote.
And, finally, Latinos are increasingly a meaningful part of the electorate in a series of other highly contested states, including Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
(A brief aside: I have chosen to use “Latino” instead of “Hispanic” or “Latinx” for a variety of reasons, too many to enumerate here – I’ll leave that to another column. However, a recent survey by Bendixen & Amandi International found that that 68% of Hispanic voters preferred “Hispanic” to describe their ethnic background, while 21% chose “Latino/Latina,” and only 2% picked “Latinx,” a term many Latinos find offensive. The problem is that “Hispanic” does not include people from Brazil, Latin America’s largest and most populous country. Brazilians are also one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the U.S. The term “Latino” includes Brazilians.)
Thesis No. 1: Latinos Are Voting More Republican
The most current evidence that Latinos’ political preferences are moving toward the GOP is a new Wall Street Journal survey. In a possible 2024 rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the survey found 44% of Latinos would pick Biden to Trump’s 43%. That would be a huge swing in Trump’s favor, because Biden won 63% of the Latino vote in 2020 (and Hillary Clinton 71% in 2016).
The WSJ poll also showed Latino voters evenly split at 37% each when asked whether they’d support a GOP congressional candidate or a Democrat. (I should note that the survey’s accuracy has been questioned because of its large margin of error (7.6%), and its small sampling of Latinos.)
The off-year elections in 2021 also seemed to indicate a pro-GOP trend. According to AP Votecast, Republican Glenn Youngkin soundly defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe among Latinos in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, 55%-43% (Edison Research’s exit polls contradicted that, finding McAuliffe won 66%-32%).
No exit polls included ethnicity in New Jersey’s governor’s race, but some Latino-heavy precincts reportedly showed a shift toward the GOP when compared to the Garden State's 2017 election.
Thesis No. 2: The Latino Vote Is Not Trending Republican
Trump won about one-third of the Latino vote in 2020 (up slightly from 28% in 2016). Some estimates put his share of Latino votes as low as 32%, others as high at 38%. The middle of that range is only slightly better than average for a Republican presidential candidate in this century (the low was Mitt Romney’s 27%, the high George W. Bush’s 40% in 2004).
So, the 37% congressional preference is in the ballpark of how Trump and other Republican presidential candidates have performed among Latinos.
Do Generalizations About the Latino Vote Even Make Sense?
Latino voters are extremely diverse, coming from dozens of countries, so it is tough to make sweeping generalizations about “the Latino vote.” In fact, voters whose background is from Cuba, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua, or Venezuela are more likely to vote Republican than Democrat. The opposite is true for those whose families originated in Mexico, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic.
Because the Latino community has never voted as a monolith, it is a major target of opportunity for both political parties.
Courting the Latino vote is especially important for Republicans because they perform better among them than with Black voters, and the Latino vote can shift significantly from one election to another.
While Black voters are just as diverse when it comes to their ancestral countries of origin, the Black vote has consistently and overwhelmingly favored the Democratic Party.
According to Vox, since 1964, Democrats have never won less than 82% of the Black vote in a presidential race, and Republicans have never won more than 15%. In 2016, Hillary Clinton took 91% of the Black vote, with Trump far behind at 6%. In 2020, the gap was similar, with Biden beating Trump 92%-8% (some estimates indicate that Trump won an even smaller share of the Black vote).
So, How Are Both Parties Blowing It?
My gut (and history) tells me that the Democrats still have a solid advantage among Latinos nationwide, despite the Wall Street Journal poll. I suspect that those who did not express a preference for either side in that survey would mostly break for Democrats at the time of casting a ballot.
But Biden’s approval rating, which is dropping among all groups, is plunging among Latinos, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
While Biden has attempted to make inroads in the Latino community, the ongoing pandemic, inflation, and other economic issues are hurting him and his party.
One of those issues is the Democrats’ perceived flirtation with socialist policies, according to a post-election survey conducted by Democratic-leaning Equis Research. Released earlier this month, it indicates that concerns about socialism are widespread among Latinos, and not just among more conservative Cuban Americans.
That’s not much of a surprise, given that many Latinos are in the U.S. precisely because they suffered the failures of socialism firsthand in their home countries.
Still, Republicans shouldn’t celebrate, because the GOP has never managed to find a consistent message that resonates with Latinos.
It’s ironic, because former President Ronald Reagan was probably right when he said, “Hispanics are conservative. They just don’t know it.”
Trump approached Latino voters in a typically schizophrenic way. He appealed to that “conservatism” by focusing on the economy and claiming he was making it better for immigrants and Latinos in general. He also courted their support by appealing to Latinos’ love of family, individualism, religious liberty, and law and order.
Meanwhile, he described illegal immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, and criminals. He disparaged their home countries and imposed a harsh family separation policy at the southern border. All the while, he made building a border wall to keep Latin Americans out of the U.S. one of the centerpieces of his administration.
The Equis research confirms that many Latino voters held back from voting for Trump in 2016 because of his hardline immigration positions, but that the importance of those policies had faded significantly by 2020.
Both parties need to wake up to simple facts that don’t seem to be as obvious as they should be.
First, Latinos are like everybody else. They care about the same issues as Black, White, Asian, and Native Americans. In fact, a Pew Research survey conducted before the election found that the top three issues for Latinos were the same as for the general population: the economy, health care and COVID. Even when it came to lesser issues, the similarities were far greater than the differences.
Second, Latinos will respond positively when progress is made on issues they (and everyone else) care about and become alienated when ignored, attacked, or demonized.
Alienating them to appeal to other constituencies will increasingly be bad policy as Latinos become a larger share of the electorate.
That shouldn’t be too hard to understand for the “geniuses” at the DNC and RNC.
Cover photo: A guest with a mask urging Latinos to vote listens as President Biden speaks during a meeting with Latino community leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House Aug. 3, 2021, in Washington. Biden met with the group to commemorate the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas and to discuss his economic agenda, immigration reform, and voting rights. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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