Democrats worry their grip on Hispanic vote is loosening
Democrats are worried they could be losing their electoral grip on Hispanics, the country’s second-largest voter bloc by ethnicity.
A Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed Hispanic voters evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and while that poll’s data faced substantive questions over its tiny sample size, its results sounded alarm bells among Democrats nonetheless.
“I think that both parties should always have a sense of urgency in communicating with Hispanics, Latinos,” said Ivan Zapien, a Democratic lobbyist and former executive director at the Hispanic Leadership Council of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“Do I think that Democrats’ heads should be on fire over this issue? Yeah, I do. I think that their head should be on fire over this issue every day regardless of what polls say,” he added.
The poll is just the latest data point that shows a growing sympathy among Hispanics toward Republican messaging. Democrats lost the states of Florida and Texas in the 2020 presidential race, and they were disappointed with some of their results from Hispanic voters.
President Biden still won 63 percent of the Latino vote in the 2020 race, nearly 30 percentage points more than former President Trump.
But the Journal’s poll offered troublesome signs, finding that just 44 percent of Hispanics would vote for Biden if the 2024 presidential election were held today and 43 percent would vote for Trump.
In recent presidential elections, Democratic candidates have done about as well as Biden in 2020, but former President George W. Bush did fairly well with Hispanic voters as recently as 2004.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 40 percent of the Hispanic vote went to Bush that year, compared to 58 percent for Democratic nominee John Kerry.
The various figures suggest Democrats should not take a large edge with Hispanic voters for granted, and Zapien said that whichever party can communicate best with Hispanic voters while “figuring out what’s on their mind” is likely to increase their share of the Hispanic vote going forward.
Democrats say they have a lead on cultural competency in communicating with most Hispanic communities in the country — Cubans, Venezuelans and Colombians in South Florida may be the exception — but they face challenges due to the size of their coalition.
“The Republican Party has a way easier job than we do. They just need to strip 5 percent to 7 percent of our national vote and they win,” said Rep. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, Bold PAC.
He said the GOP needs to spend in the range of $10 million to $30 million on a combination of voter suppression efforts and campaign messaging to hit that goal.
“We have to continue to invest and make sure that we’re still hitting in the 65 to 70 percent range in order to keep our national coalition together, which is very expensive, especially as we have a growing population,” added Gallego.
Republicans are latching on to the polling numbers and indications from 2020 that Hispanics — particularly voters in Texas and Florida — are increasingly responsive to a conservative economic message.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called last week’s Journal polling troubling for Democrats.
“Hispanic voters are splitting their support more evenly between the two parties, a new WSJ poll finds. That’s an ominous sign for Democrats,” he said on Wednesday.
The White House is working to sell Hispanic voters on their Build Back Better social spending agenda, blasting out quotes last month from Tucson, Ariz., Mayor Regina Romero, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Colorado state Senate President Leroy Garcia, among others. They also highlighted statements from UnidosUS, the Hispanic Federation and Voto Latino.
In addition, they’re selling Hispanic voters on the two major bills already signed by Biden: the American Rescue Plan, signed into law in the spring, that provided stimulus checks and other forms of coronavirus relief, and the recently approved infrastructure measure.
“Unemployment is down, the lowest it’s been in 50 years. We’ve created nearly 6 million jobs. Our economy is recovering faster than any other advanced economy in the world,” said Mayra Macías, chief strategy officer of Building Back Together, a political nonprofit dedicated to selling Biden’s message.
“While we’ve made progress. We realize that people are still not fully feeling the positive impacts in their day to day lives, but this is, if anything, more of an impetus to get Build Back Better across the finish line, because this legislation will lower the cost of health care, prescription drugs, housing, child care and more,” she added.
The White House made another effort to gain popularity among Latinos for Hispanic Heritage Month in September with a virtual discussion to highlight the benefits of the Build Back Better agenda for the community.
The roundtable featured Latinos in the administration, including Small Business Administration chief Isabel Guzman, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Lucas Acosta, coalitions director and senior spokesman at the DNC, argued that Biden has been delivering for Latino families since the start of his administration, naming the expanded child tax credit and helping Latino-owned small businesses as examples.
“In the coming year, Democrats will continue to make the case to Latinos that while President Biden has focused on improving their lives, Republicans have consistently tried to stand in the way,” he said.
Aside from extending social programs popular among many Latino communities, the bill currently includes immigration language that is generally popular among Hispanics.
Democrats like Gallego say the immigration provisions could be a boon if they make it into law — potentially granting immigration relief to up to 6.5 million people — but that they are not a necessary magic bullet to get Latinos to the polls.
“I don’t think that there’s a magic wand or a particular issue that is going to assure you some sort of long-term fidelity by ‘the Hispanic vote.’ Or even segments of the Hispanic vote,” Zapien said. “The party that spends the most time, energy and resources communicating with them, where they are, is going to have the momentum.”
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