Republican gains among Hispanic voters have generated a wave of concern among Democratic strategists. In 2020,
received 38% of the Hispanic vote nationally, compared with 28% in 2016, according to a state-of-the-art Pew study that verified individual votes and is considered more reliable than exit polls. In Florida, Mr. Trump’s share rose to 46% from 35%, and in Texas to 41% from 31%. He made large gains in other states as well. If these gains are sustained in the midterm elections, Democrats will be forced to concede that a group they long regarded as a cornerstone of a new Democratic majority has instead become a swing group for whose allegiance they must fight.
If they’re serious about winning—and governing—Democrats must move Hispanics to the top tier of their electoral priorities. Here’s why.
A half-century ago, Hispanics in the U.S. numbered 9.6 million, less than 5% of the total population. Today, they number more than 62 million, about 19%. This rapid increase has had important consequences for the electorate. Although a higher-than-average share of Hispanics are too young to vote, their share of eligible adults has nearly doubled, to 14.3% from 7.4% since 2000. Since the 2018 midterms, that number has climbed to 34.6 million from 29.9 million, or 16%. Hispanic eligible voters outnumber African-American ones.
Hispanics are clustered in a handful of states. Some, such as California, New York and New Mexico, are deep blue. But others, such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada, are competitive. Hispanics make up 32% of the eligible votes in Texas, 25% in Arizona and 21% in Florida and Nevada. Declining support for Democrats in these states could put Florida and Texas permanently out of reach and shift Arizona and Nevada, which Democrats narrowly won two years ago, into the Republican column.
In the closing weeks of the 2022 midterm cycle, survey research suggests the trends of recent years are likely to continue. In 2018, Republicans won only 25% of the Hispanic vote. This year, the four most recent national surveys of likely voters place the Republican share of Hispanic voters between 34% and 38%. In Florida, where Republican
by 8 points in the race for governor, he leads by 16 among Hispanics. In Texas, where Democrat
by 7 points overall, he is managing no better than a statistical tie among Hispanics.
Unless Democrats can increase their appeal among Hispanic voters in these states, it’s difficult to see how they’ll be able to win statewide elections ever again. This means setting aside longstanding myths and focusing honestly on what really moves this part of the electorate.
Take immigration. Although Democrats believe that Republicans’ stance on immigration—especially at the southern border—should reduce their appeal among Hispanics, polls suggest otherwise. A recent survey of Texas voters found that 53% of Hispanics thought Gov. Abbott would do a better job handling the situation at the border, compared with 44% for Mr. O’Rourke. Forty-eight percent of Hispanics supported shipping migrants who cross the border illegally to Democrat-dominated states and cities, one of Mr. Abbott’s signature programs.
An Oct. 14 Washington Post/Ipsos survey shows that only 5% of Hispanics consider immigration the most important issue in their vote for Congress this year. By contrast, 31% named inflation as their top issue, followed by abortion (20%) and gun violence (10%).
Yet this isn’t unalloyed good news for Republicans, because most Hispanics aren’t social conservatives across the board. (This could change over time if the ranks of Hispanic evangelical Christians continue to increase.) Yes, many are highly patriotic and believe in hard work as the key to success. But they disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade by 2 to 1—and 61% believe that abortion should be legal either across the board or with restrictions only for special circumstances such as late-term abortions. By a margin of nearly 3 to 1, they favor tighter rather than looser restrictions on guns. And nearly 6 in 10 support the legalization of marijuana.
Still, Democrats will be hard-pressed to take advantage of these issues until they can tame inflation and develop an economic narrative that focuses less on redistribution and more on broad-based growth and upward mobility.
Their challenge also goes beyond specific issues. As recent controversies over redistricting in Los Angeles and school-admissions standards across the country should have made clear, the phrase “people of color” denotes a discredited thesis about contemporary politics, not a real political unity. The distinctive black experience in America isn’t the template for other minority groups. Democrats can’t regain lost ground among Hispanics until they set aside this self-defeating misconception and engage with the issues that matter to this key group.
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