The Chattering Class on Hispanic Voters

Economic and social issues, not group identity, are increasingly important to a growing demographic

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 24, 2022

For over a year, I have been analyzing the emergence of Hispanics as increasingly swing voters in contested elections. I have now been joined by a chorus of the chattering political class, by turns amazed and concerned about the fact that Hispanics are voting like their fellow Americans. It is a real phenomenon — but Republicans excited by the prospect of a major shift should temper their expectations.

Ruy Teixeira. One of the earliest observers of this phenomenon was Ruy Teixeira, described by Politico as “one of Washington’s most prominent left-leaning think-tank scholars, a fixture at the Center for American Progress since the liberal organization’s founding in 2003”. He’s now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, for reasons having more to do with the left than with Teixeira, who asserts he’s just “Trying to make the world a better place.”

Last December, he wrote:

The Democrats are steadily losing ground with Hispanic voters. The seriousness of this problem tends to be underestimated in Democratic circles for a couple of reasons: (1) they don’t realize how big the shift is; and (2) they don’t realize how thoroughly it undermines the most influential Democratic theory of the case for building their coalition.


In Texas, perhaps the Democrats’ most prized target for their theory of the case, Biden’s ratings among Hispanics have been dreadful. A September Dallas Morning News poll had Biden's approval rating among Texas Hispanics at an anemic 35 percent vs. 54 percent disapproval — 19 points underwater. His approval rating on handling immigration at the border was even worse — 29 points underwater. The latter rating is similar to Biden’s rating on the same issue among Texas Hispanics in the more recent Texas Tribune poll.

Thereafter, in March, Teixeira explained:

What nonwhite voters want is effective governance, safe communities, improved living standards and a normally-functioning society. Those take precedence over ideological commitments. This is particularly true for Hispanics who, as I’ve repeatedly noted, are a constituency that does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy. They are instead a patriotic, upwardly mobile, working class group with quite practical and down to earth concerns.

Seemingly confirming Teixeira’s theory, three months after that last piece Mayra Flores won a special election in Texas’ heavily Hispanic 34th congressional district — which sits on the Rio Grande — as a Republican. Flores is an immigrant herself (her family brought her with them from Mexico), she is married to a Border Patrol agent, and ran on (among other issues) border security.

Fraga, Velez, and West. In July, three professors — Bernard L. Fraga from Emory University, Columbia University’s Yamil R. Velez, and Emily A. West at the University of Pittsburgh — wrote a paper captioned “Reversion to the Mean, or their Version of the Dream? An Analysis of Latino Voting in 2020”.

Summarizing their findings about the last presidential election, the trio noted that:

Using a mix of national survey data, precinct returns, and voter file records, and disaggregating components of electoral change, we find evidence of an increasing alignment between issue positions and vote choice among Latinos. Moreover, we observe significant pro-Trump shifts among working-class Latinos and modest evidence of a pro-Trump shift among newly-engaged U.S.-born Latino children of immigrants and Catholic Latinos. The results point to a more durable Republican shift than currently assumed.

Marianna Sotomayor and Silvia Foster-Frau. More recently, in early October, the Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor and Silvia Foster-Frau argued that “Florida Hispanic voting patterns serve as warning for Democrats”.

They quote Mike Madrid, “a Latino Republican strategist who has publicly condemned his party’s move toward Trump”, who warns:

Democrats are betting on racial politics and issues of racial discrimination to motivate Latino voters. But Republicans are focusing on the economy, using “literally the exact same playbook” with Latinos as they have with White blue-collar workers.

“There’s no economic messages coming from the Democrats. None. So they’re not only losing White blue-collar workers, they’re losing Brown blue-collar workers. ... The Democrats really don’t understand the size and scope of their problem, and they’re stuck in their own cultural cul-de-sac.”

More basically, however, the pair explain that “Voter apathy has long left millions of Hispanics up for grabs by either party.”

Citing statistics from the Brennan Center for Justice, they note that just about 54 percent of “Latinos” voted in 2020, “roughly 17 percentage points behind the White voter turnout and roughly eight and six percentage points behind Black and Asian turnout, respectively”.

NPR. On October 17, NPR reported that “Democrats are losing Latino voters”, a problem “that could be pivotal for midterm elections”. The NPR article is in the form of an interview between “All Things Considered” host Sasha Pfeiffer and Democratic campaign strategist Chuck Rocha, the latter having “worked on both of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaigns”.

According to Rocha, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, overturning the Court’s finding in Roe v. Wade that the Constitution guarantees a right to abortion, is “super-duper impactful with women and women of color”. The strategist continues:

The real problem with Democrats are the men and the men of color, non-college educated men in particular. And that's where your argument around the economy and jobs — in focus group after focus groups with Latinos this summer, that's what particularly men were talking about, things that they don't feel like Democrats, in their opinion, have been delivering for them even though Joe Biden and the Democrats have probably done more in the last two years than any administration in a two-year period in a long time. So it's very frustrating when the message is not resonating down to the grassroots in many communities.

Raising the question, who are the “grassroots in many communities” going to believe — the “resonating message” or their lying eyes? But I digress.

William A. Galston. William A. Galston — the resident liberal on the Wall Street Journal’s otherwise right-leaning opinion page — joined the chorus on October 18, asserting that “Democrats Are in Trouble With Hispanics”. Galston notes that Trump improved his performance with this demographic between his 2016 and 2020 runs and contends that “polls suggest that trend will continue”.

Importantly, however, Galston notes that Hispanic voters are “clustered” together in just a few states, some of which (California, New York, and New Mexico) the columnist describes as “deep blue” and others (Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada) he terms (correctly) as “competitive”.

Galston explains that a decline in support for Democrats in those competitive 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.” That is undeniably true.

According to Galston, in the Florida gubernatorial race, sitting Governor Ron DeSantis leads his Democratic opponent, former Governor Charlie Crist by eight points, but DeSantis has a 16-point edge over Crist among Hispanics. Meanwhile: “In Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke trails [Republican] Gov. Greg Abbott by 7 points overall, he is managing no better than a statistical tie among Hispanics.”

He explains that Democrats must increase their appeal among Hispanics in those competitive races to win statewide office in those states again, which will require them to dispense with “longstanding myths” and instead focus “honestly on what really moves this part of the electorate”. The first “longstanding myth” he raises has to do with immigration and the border:

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%).

Polling and Takeaways. In a recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, 61 percent of respondents stated that immigration would be “very important” in their vote for Congress this year and 29 percent asserted that it would be “somewhat important” (90 percent total importance), while just 10 percent replied that it would not be too important or not important at all.

Among white respondents, 63 percent asserted that immigration would be very important, 28 percent somewhat important (91 percent total importance), and just 9 percent not too important or not important at all.

Hispanics responded in a similar manner to their white counterparts: Among that demographic, 64 percent stated that immigration would be very important, 26 percent somewhat important (90 percent total importance), and 10 percent not too important or not important at all.

Of course, “immigration” can mean many things to different people, from amnesty to building a wall. Other polling helps to flesh this out.

In a Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted between October 7 and 9 of 2,006 registered voters, 35 percent of respondents approved of President Biden’s handling of immigration, just 13 percent “strongly”. Conversely, 56 percent disapproved, 42 percent “strongly”.

Hispanic respondents were more likely to approve of Biden’s immigration performance, but not by much. Among this demographic, 36 percent approved of the job that Biden is doing when it comes to immigration (17 percent strongly approving), while 52 percent disapproved (31 percent strongly disapproving).

A poll published on October 17 by Issues and Insights and performed by TechnoMetrica Institute of Policy and Politics asked respondents which of the two parties would do a better job of securing the border. The results: 43 percent chose the GOP, 34 percent picked Democrats, and 23 percent were not sure.

Half — 50 percent — of white respondents placed more trust in Republicans to secure the border, while just 28 percent thought Democrats would do a better job. Among whites, 21 percent were not sure which party would be better at securing the border.

Hispanic respondents were somewhat split, but they still slightly favored the GOP, with 38 percent trusting the Party of Lincoln to secure the border compared to 36 percent who trusted Democrats. Among this demographic, 26 percent weren’t sure.

These findings support Galston’s conclusions about Hispanics and the “longstanding myth” that they as a group shun more border enforcement.

That said, other polls suggest that Hispanics as a whole are still in the Democratic camp.

For example, in a New York Times/Siena poll, also published on October 17, 49 percent of respondents stated that they would vote for the GOP candidate in the midterm congressional elections, while 45 percent planned on voting for the Democrat. Six percent did not know or refused to answer.

Though 55 percent of white respondents planned to vote for the Republican and 40 percent for the Democrat, those margins were more than switched when it came to Hispanic respondents. Among that demographic, 60 percent are planning to pull the lever for the Democrat, and just 35 percent stated that their ballot would go to the Republican.

That suggests that while the GOP may be making inroads among Hispanics in certain regions, they still have a way to go just to break even with the Democrats.

An Economist/YouGov poll conducted October 8 to 11 suggests that the gap may be shrinking, however. Respondents there were asked whether they preferred a midterm election outcome in which Republicans or Democrats controlled the Senate and House.

With respect to the Senate, 36 percent preferred Democratic control, 35 percent control by the GOP, and 11 percent wanted an even split. Among Hispanics, a lower percentage, 35 percent, are pulling for the Democrats to control the upper chamber, while 17 percent would prefer Republican control, and 13 percent want an even split. That’s not great for Republicans, but it’s not that good for the Party of Jackson, either.

Interestingly, 35 percent of total respondents would opt for the GOP to control the House, compared to 37 percent who want to keep a Democrat in the Speaker’s chair, and 10 percent want an even split (an impossibility in a chamber with 435 seats — somebody’s got to win).

Among Hispanics, however, just 31 percent want Democrats to control the People’s House, 20 percent are seeking GOP control, 14 percent want a split, and a whopping 35 percent have no preference — suggesting that Madrid may be right when he talks about voter apathy. It at least leaves the door open for Republican candidates in local elections to make gains.

All this suggests that while Hispanic voters writ large lean toward the Democratic Party, they aren’t a monolithic voting bloc, and the GOP is making some gains.

If Democrats continue to chase Hispanic votes with just promises of higher levels of immigration and amnesty, they are likely to slip further, particularly if the economy continues to slide and the border remains in chaos. Hispanic women increasingly vote like the female population as a whole, and working-class Hispanics are, not surprisingly, voting based on pocketbook issues and not group identity.