Democrats must face the reality of their Latino voter problem

Democrats are losing their grip on the Latino vote. That’s a huge political problem for the party.

In 2020, there was a demonstrable swing toward the G.O.P. among Latino voters — a trend that has sustained itself during Joe Biden’s presidency and now threatens to upend Democrats’ ability to build winning coalitions in 2022 and 2024 as the party’s platform moves further to the left.

Indeed, concern about Democrats embracing socialism and left-leaning policies drove many Latino voters to defect from the party in 2020, according to a post-election report conducted by a Democratic-leaning group, Equis Research. Democrats also lost ground to Republicans on key issues related to the economy, the most important overall voting issue for Latinos.

Between 2016 and 2020, support for Trump among Latino voters increased by 10-points, Pew Research Center’s validated voter survey shows. Trump won 38 percent of the Latino vote in 2020 — the highest percentage for a Republican since George W. Bush won 44 percent in 2004. Biden’s 21-point margin of victory among Latinos marked a significant decline from Hillary Clinton’s 38-point advantage in 2016.

Recent polling by the Wall Street Journal also shows that Latino voters are evenly split between the parties in terms of their choice for Congress in 2022, 37 percent to 37 percent. And in a hypothetical Biden versus Trump rematch, 44 percent would support Biden and 43 percent would vote for Trump. 

Despite the legitimate concerns some have raised over the relatively small sample size used by the Wall Street Journal, the trend the survey isolates — of Latino voters moving away from the Democratic Party — is corroborated by other recent polling and research.

Biden has lost ground among almost every racial and ethnic group during his first nine months in office, but his approval rating declined most precipitously among Hispanic voters, per a FiveThirtyEight analysis. Among Hispanic voters, Biden’s approval dropped from the high 60’s in January to the high 40’s in October.

As the fastest-growing segment of the electorate over the last 20 years, Latino voters are now the country’s second-largest voter bloc by ethnicity. While not a monolithic group, Latinos have voted reliably Democratic for several decades. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, whose policies and rhetoric demonized immigrants, Democrats began taking Latino voters for granted — at their own peril. 

As the Equis Research report shows, concern about Democrats embracing socialism and leftist policies was a significant predictor of the Trump vote in 2020, especially in South Florida and South Texas — two areas where Trump’s support among Latinos increased substantially. Nationally, more than 4-in-10 Latino voters expressed this concern, including 7-in-10 Trump voters and 3-in-10 Biden voters.

Republican attacks on Democrats to this effect were salient in part because they were “uncontested,” and reached voters who felt “forgotten or unheard,” the report notes. Put another way, in areas like South Florida, Democrats did not effectively counter — through direct-to-voter communications or advertising — the G.O.P. narrative that tied Democrats to socialism, and depicted socialism as the true opposite of the “American Dream.”

Common wisdom holds that Latino voters’ pronounced fear of socialism is due in large part to older Latinos’ experience with socialist regimes in Latin America — however, that is not entirely accurate.

Concern about socialism actually increases with each subsequent generation of Latino voters, a logistic regression model in the Equis Research report shows. Fifty-nine percent of fourth-generation Latinos are predicted to be concerned about socialism — compared to 54 percent of the grandchildren of immigrants, 49 percent of children of immigrants, and 45 percent of immigrants.

This indicates that younger generations of Latino voters could be even more averse to leftist policies than older generations — a trend that could make Latino voters as a whole less receptive to Democrats over time as the party continuously moves further to left on both economic and cultural issues.

On the economy, Democrats are already missing the mark with Latino voters. Democrats have lost their advantage over Republicans in key economic areas that once defined the party’s brand. When asked which party is more accurately described as valuing hard work, being the party of the American dream, and being better for American workers, Latino voters are split between Democrats and Republicans, per Equis Research’s findings. 

This divide — among a group of voters that has historically favored Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin or more — is illustrative of the broader problem Democrats have with their economic message shifting to the left in a way that has isolated key segments of the electorate.

In addition, Trump’s economy-first message during the pandemic resonated with Latino voters — who were disproportionately likely to work in industries affected by the shutdown orders — and become symbolic to many voters of preserving the value of hard work and the “American Dream.”

Latino voters are also rejecting many of the culturally progressive positions recently adopted by Democrats, according to recent polling conducted by another Democratic-aligned firm

40 percent of Latino voters are offended by the term “Latinx,” which is used by Democratic politicians in an effort to refer to the group in gender-neutral terms. Moreover, the use of “Latinx” by Democratic politicians offends enough Latinos to the point that 30 percent would be less likely to vote for a politician who used the term.

Ultimately, many Latino voters are moving further and further away from a Democratic Party that they feel no longer meshes with their economic or cultural ideals and values. 

If Democrats cannot heed these lessons of 2020 and reposition accordingly, their margins among Latino voters will continue to shrink — giving Republicans a more certain path to winning control of Congress in 2022, and the White House in 2024.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to former President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.” Zoe Young is vice president of Schoen Cooperman Research.

Tags Democratic Party Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Latino vote Michael Bloomberg Political parties in the United States Politics Politics of the United States Republican Party United States United States presidential election Voting in the United States

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