You’re not chasing us away because you’re too “woke.” You’re chasing us away because you’ve been asleep at the switch when it comes to reaching out to us. You no longer ask for our votes because you assume you have them. You’re too busy chasing after white suburban soccer moms by talking tough on immigration and criticizing the same lenient policies that produce the immigrant housekeepers and nannies that keep those suburban households afloat. That was always going to be a recipe for bleeding votes, and now the bleeding is out of control.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, Latinos are now almost evenly split between the two major political parties.
When asked which party they would support in a congressional race if the election were held today, 37 percent of Latino voters said they would back the Republican candidate and 37 percent said they would favor the Democrat. A sizable amount—22 percent—were undecided. When asked who they would back in a hypothetical rematch in 2024 between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, 44 percent said they would favor Biden while 43 percent said they would support Trump.
While the poll had a small sample size, it’s difficult to find a Democratic pollster or pundit who isn’t at least a little bit worried that the red wave that is expected to wash over Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections will include lots of Latino voters. Compounding the worry is the fact that many Latinos live in battleground states—Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Virginia, Nevada etc—where elections tend to be close.
“Latinos are more and more becoming swing voters… They’re a swing vote that we’re going to have to fight for,’’ Democratic pollster John Anzalone told the Journal. His company conducted the poll along with one headed by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio.
A word of caution: The more you hear or read on the subject of Latinos going Republican, the more confused you’re likely to get. Every analysis I’ve encountered in recent weeks from journalists, pollsters, pundits, or political observers has been wrong. And, most of the explanations of non-Latinos (i.e, white folks) have been spectacularly wrong.
Too many people are oversimplifying the complicated, and complicating the simple.
It’s not the case, as some Democrats suggest, that “macho” Latino men are gravitating to the GOP because they see that party as more masculine and friendlier to alpha males. It’s also a little too easy for Republicans to argue that Latinos are complete converts to the GOP on the two issues that resonate most with us—the economy and education.
While many of us like Republicans’ pro-business stance, we also see a role for robust government spending on things like education, health care, and Social Security. And just because we believe in upholding academic standards doesn’t mean we’re going all in for private school vouchers.
And there’s no such thing as one solid Latino voting bloc. About 60 percent of the 62 million Latinos in the United States are Mexican or Mexican Americans. Those are the real swing voters. The other 40 percent are made up of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Guatemalans, who usually vote for Democrats. But you’ll also find Cubans, Salvadorans, and Colombians, who tend to vote for Republicans.
There are also major geographical differences, according to which state Latinos call home. Those in blue states like California, New York, New Jersey, or New Mexico are more likely to vote Democratic. Those who live in red states like Utah, Texas or Florida are more likely to vote Republican. And those in “purple” states—or even states recently led by one party but now led by another, like Nevada, Arizona, or Virginia—are up for grabs..
Another thing that’s not true is this idea that Latinos are suddenly becoming Republicans. It’s more accurate to say that we’ve always been at least partially Republican—with conservative views on both economic and social issues. Former President Ronald Reagan used to say that Latinos were hardwired to be Republican, “they just don’t know it.”
Sure, Latinos register Democrat over Republican by a 2-1 margin, and we’ve been loyally voting for Democratic candidates for generations. But it’s worth noting that we have almost always supported conservative Democrats, while also showing a willingness to cross party lines and support pro-immigrant Republicans—particularly at the local level.
“Republicans have a secret weapon when courting Latino voters. It’s called Democrats.”
It’s true that, in 15 presidential elections since 1960, the Democratic candidate won a majority of the Latino vote. It’s also true that some Democrats have fumbled and given up big chunks of that vote.
Think Walter Mondale in 1984, who lost 40 percent of the Latino vote to President Ronald Reagan. Or John Kerry who in 2004 gave up 44 percent to President George W. Bush.
An analysis this year by the Pew Research Center found that Biden beat Trump with Latino voters by 21 points, 59 percent to 38 percent. But just four years earlier, Hillary Clinton had limited Trump to just 28 percent of the Latino vote while winning 66 percent herself. Trump improved his performance with Latinos by 10 percentage points from 2016 to 2020, aided by the fact that Biden is out of touch with this Democratic constituency.
So what’s really going on with the Latino vote?
Let’s start with the obvious. Republicans have a secret weapon when courting Latino voters. It’s called Democrats.
This phenomenon—of a political party benefiting from the idiocy and missteps of the opposition—isn’t new. In politics, a big part of winning is drawing the right opponent.
Still, with Latino voters, this repulsion mechanism used to work in reverse.
For the last 30 years, as more immigrants from Mexico and Central America came to the United States—as a result of the insatiable appetite of U.S. employers for immigrant labor and trade imbalances exacerbated by the North American Free Trade Agreement—boneheaded Republicans went full nativist. Instead of attacking the immigration system as unfair or dysfunctional, they bashed immigrants as inferior or dangerous.
Democrats were the beneficiaries, and they got accustomed to getting Latino votes on the cheap. Over time, those easy victories bred not just complacency but also neglect.
Republicans still don’t do much right in reaching out to Latinos, who now represent about one in eight registered voters in the United States. Nativism is a tough habit to kick, especially when so many of the White voters who make up the core of the GOP remain addicted to it and demand that Republicans breath fire on the immigration issue.
But Democrats can always be counted on to do something wrong.
Terry McAuliffe obliged. The outgoing Virginia governor—who did little on behalf of Latinos while in office—delivered at least one cringe-worthy moment during the state’s recent gubernatorial campaign when he told Latino volunteers to go forth and multiply. McAuliffe urged the young people to “get busy,” suggesting they procreate to increase their demographic numbers and political strength in the Old Dominion.
“10.5% of the population is very significant,” McAuliffe told the group, referring to the size of Virginia’s Latino population. “Now let me give yourself some advice: Get busy, get yourself to 11% relatively quickly.”
McAuliffe still won the Latino vote in Virginia, but his opponent Glenn Youngkin—who won the race—appears to have picked up more Latino support than many political observers predicted.
For a Republican, anything north of 30 percent is a good showing that puts their Democratic opponent on the defensive. According to Edison Research, Youngkin hit 32 percent.
Whenever they lose ground with voters, the political parties always offer explanations that suit them. Republicans say that the Democrats are scaring off Latinos with a “Latinx” wokeness that only plays with cultural elites, and the GOP’s messages about education and jobs are paying off. Democrats counter that defections are limited to “macho” Latino males who are now gravitating to a party that is perceived as more masculine.
Neither political party “gets” Latino voters. And both of them need to listen up. Latinos are not going all-in for any political ideology.
We’re a very diverse group of voters, and many of us are going to remain cafeteria voters who pick and choose depending on what looks good on any given election day. We’re in play because we can’t be put in a box.
And we’re paying attention—to who is paying attention to us.