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Most Hispanic Voters Back Democrats-- But That Majority Has Been Shrinking

2 Latinas face off in South Texas, Monica De La Cruz, a MAGA lunatic (l), and progressive champion Michelle Vallejo (r)

The race for L.A. County sheriff pits two really bad candidates against each other, former Long Beach police chief Robert Luna and current sheriff Alex Villanueva. But Villanueva is much, much worse, a corrupt authoritarian running a failed, gang-infested department. This morning, the L.A. Times reported that “With mail-in ballots being cast and the Nov. 8 election day less than a week away, 40% of likely voters and people who have already voted said they’ve chosen Luna, while 32% said they are voting for Villanueva… Democrats and liberals still tend to heavily favor Luna, while Republicans and conservatives support Villanueva as fervently. Luna is ahead 50% to 21% among registered Democrats, while Villanueva leads 65% to 16% among registered Republicans. Luna is also leading among white, Black and Asian likely voters, while Latino likely voters favor Villanueva. Among Latino likely voters, 38% support Villanueva while 33% are voting for Luna. [Note: although he’s a Fox-loving fascist, Villanueva constantly makes the point that he’s a lifelong Democrat while Luna is a lifelong Republican opportunist who switched his party registration in 2020 to run for this office.]

This morning, Tim Alberta wrote about the exodus from the Democratic Party coalition of more and more Hispanic voters. He started his report in Arizona, with the hard-fought 2020 breakthrough for the Democrats. “Biden didn’t just win the election, he won Arizona, only the second time since Harry Truman’s administration that a Democrat had carried the state. Given Biden’s winning margin— three-tenths of a percentage point— and the unprecedented turnout of Hispanic voters, there could be no disputing who had delivered Arizona to the president-elect. The state’s Hispanic population had tripled since 1990, but Republicans had spent those years doubling down on the harsh policing and immigration policies that appealed to their white conservative base.”

But, Hispanic voters— surprise, surprise— don’t like being condescended to or bullshitted. “Over the past few years,” wrote Alberta, “Hispanics have begun abandoning the Democratic Party, defying generations of political patterns and causing varying degrees of panic on the left. In the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives, they won the Hispanic vote by 40 points nationally. In 2020, Democrats still carried the vote by an estimated 33 points against Trump himself, though the party’s margin against GOP candidates nationwide shrank to 27 points. This summer, numerous polls showed Hispanics splitting in a statistical tie between the two parties. Even if such findings are exaggerated—several recent surveys have shown Democrats reestablishing an advantage among these voters—it’s evident that Republicans are poised next week to win their biggest share of Hispanics in the modern era… At a moment when Democrats have begun to dominate the affluent, college-educated vote that for decades formed the cornerstone of the Republican coalition, perhaps the only thing that can keep the GOP competitive is an infusion of support from the very middle- and working-class Hispanics who were, at this moment in history, supposed to deliver the Democrats a foolproof majority.”

Democrats had won big among nonwhite voters since the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. What set apart Barack Obama’s victory wasn’t necessarily his margins— he carried two-thirds of Hispanics, per exit polls, and 95 percent of Blacks— but the mass mobilization of these and other groups that had historically gone underrepresented. Obama assembled “a coalition of the ascendant,” as my colleague Ron Brownstein put it, cornering the demographics— young people, women with college degrees, and minorities, particularly Hispanics— that were emerging as the future of the electorate. By emphasizing these groups, by elevating them and celebrating their inclusion in the party’s coalition, Democrats were portraying themselves as the party of a new America.
When Obama put that same winning coalition back together in 2012, running up the same crushing margins among nonwhite voters, “Demography is destiny” became conventional wisdom, and not just on the left. Two days after Mitt Romney’s defeat, Fox’s Sean Hannity called for comprehensive immigration reform, complete with a path to citizenship, lest Hispanic voters usher Republicans into permanent minority status. The national GOP commissioned an autopsy report focused on repairing the relationship with Hispanics. Senator Lindsey Graham, who led a team of Republicans on a doomed mission to fix the nation’s immigration laws, warned that his party was entering “a demographic death spiral.”
But neither the left nor the right really understood Hispanics, who were motivated by different issues than were Blacks— to the extent that they could be accurately categorized at all. In Florida alone, Cubans are generally more conservative than Colombians, who are generally more conservative than Puerto Ricans; the Mexicans who live across the Southwest have distinct ideological profiles that depend on how long they’ve been in the United States. All the emphasis on nonwhites, and the GOP’s inability to win them, made it hard to see the very different reasons that different blocs had for supporting Democrats— or their different degrees of partisan loyalty.
…There are two ironies at work. The first is that it required the presidency of Donald Trump— he of the “I love Hispanics!” caption on a Cinco de Mayo tweet, fork digging into a Trump Tower taco bowl— for some Democrats to question their own dogma. Trump was supposed to be uniquely unacceptable to minorities, and to Hispanics in particular, given his assessment of Mexicans as, among other things, “rapists.” Yet Democrats didn’t see major gains with Hispanics during his four years in office. Instead, their margins shrank.
“In the end, the 2020 election wasn’t won by the ‘ascendant’ nonwhite voters at all,” Teixeira told me. “It was the college-educated white voters who won the election for Biden.”
Hence the second irony: The very thing that breathed life into the Democratic Party 20 years ago— the focus on identity and inclusion— is making it more popular with white voters, and less popular with Hispanic voters. (This is what far-right fear merchants like Tucker Carlson fail to grasp: The immigrants demonized by his “Great Replacement” rhetoric are now, in some respects, likelier to vote Republican than the people they are supposedly replacing.)
[Some believe] the real problem is a “class disconnect” in which Democrats are catering to the cultural concerns of economically secure whites at the expense of the pocketbook priorities of working-class Hispanics.
…The timing couldn’t be worse for Democrats. According to Pew Research, the U.S. Hispanic population has grown to 62 million from fewer than 10 million in 1970. (Hispanics accounted for more than half of America’s population growth from 2010 to 2020.) In the last election, Hispanics eclipsed African Americans in terms of raw eligible voters. Hispanics are not yet a national force—their numbers are still diluted in the upper Midwest, for instance— but in several key battleground states, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona, they have become the most essential, and most coveted, demographic.
…María-Elena López, who held a variety of positions under [Juan] Cuba in the [Dade] county party, saw this shift taking place in real time. She believes that there is no real mystery to it: While Trump successfully portrayed himself as a populist achieving hard-won economic growth— signing tax cuts into law, touting a record-shattering stock market, boasting the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate in history— Democrats came across as a bunch of out-of-touch idealogues. Promises of shared social progress, she told me, offend the sensibilities of many first- and second-generation immigrants who hate the idea of government handouts.
“We’re not a political party, we’re a charity. And you know what? These people don’t want charity,” López said. “These immigrants come here to make money and keep their families safe. They are not here because the sea levels are rising, or because of social justice, or anything else. We’re out there talking about racism and the Green New Deal and defunding the police, and we’re freaking them out.”
López is a former Republican who, in the mid-1990s, became estranged from the GOP of her youth. She became an avid Democrat during Obama’s first run, got deeply involved with local party politics, and today serves as first vice chair of the county party. She counts herself as a progressive on nearly every issue. But, López said, many of her fellow progressives don’t appreciate how fundamentally conservative the Hispanic community is— more religious, more entrepreneurial, more working class— relative to the other cogs in the Democratic coalition.
…López said it’s all about opportunity cost: Every minute Democrats spend on topics that appeal to small portions of their existing base is time that could have been spent speaking to a single theme that preoccupies voters across the ideological spectrum: jobs, opportunity, upward mobility. “You can still be the party of all those other things,” she said. “Just don’t talk about them so much.”
…[Bruno] Lozano told me he reached out to every Democratic official he could think of, in Texas and beyond, pleading for any help or resources they could offer. When that failed, he asked them to come visit Del Rio, to at least shine a light on what was happening at the border. “They looked the other way,” Lozano said. “They just pretend it’s not happening.”
When he was elected mayor of Del Rio in 2018, Lozano, just 35 years old at the time, fit the profile of a rising star in the Democratic Party. An openly gay Hispanic military veteran, Lozano “checked every box” for the party. Since he had defeated a Republican incumbent just as his county was beginning to turn red, Lozano said, “you would figure Democrats might listen when I’m telling them something is wrong.”
Lozano said he began sounding the alarm almost as soon as Biden took office. He told his fellow Democrats that, for all the damage done by Trump’s cruel border-security policies, a relaxed approach to border enforcement could prove even more disastrous. He warned them of a potential humanitarian or national-security crisis. He told high-ranking party officials in Austin and in Washington—including during a visit to the White House for an LGBTQ pride event—that Hispanics in his community were turning on the Democratic Party, in part because of its indifference to the chaos at the southern border.
He told me they refused to listen. And today, Lozano said, pulling into the parking lot of a Ramada Inn a few miles from the border, the problem is worse than ever.
The Ramada is where locals host wedding receptions, where businesspeople and politicians meet for breakfast, and where, on a blazing July afternoon, the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce was holding its monthly luncheon. There was no vacancy at the hotel; rooms were booked for Border Patrol agents who had flooded into the area to reinforce a sector that was being overrun.
“This is the biggest wave of illegal immigration in American history, and we’re at the epicenter of it here in Del Rio,” Jason Owens, the Border Patrol’s chief patrol agent of the Del Rio sector, announced at the luncheon. “In the last 24 hours, we’ve apprehended 2,240 people in this sector alone.”
The room buzzed. Forty or so people, local entrepreneurs, most of them Hispanic and many of them lifelong Democrats, exchanged looks of dismay. A few expletives could be heard. Owens wasn’t done.
“In fiscal year 2021, we apprehended nearly 260,000 people in the Del Rio sector. That was more than the previous nine fiscal years combined,” Owens said. “This fiscal year … we are already in excess of 330,000 people apprehended in this sector. Last year was record-breaking; this year, we’ve already shattered it.”
…Technically, the border is not open. But you wouldn’t know it from spending a few days in Del Rio. People I spoke with down there said they’d never seen anything like the mass of humanity moving across the border since Biden became president. In fairness, apprehensions at the southern border began to rise in the spring of 2020 and continued to climb throughout Trump’s final year as president. But the numbers spiked much higher after Biden took office. It’s difficult to examine the policies of his administration—which, according to the left-leaning Migration Policy Institute, “narrowed the scope of immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior” and “adopted something of a new approach to border enforcement”—and dispute the conclusion that Democrats have made it easier for migrants to attempt and complete an unlawful crossing into the U.S., making a historically bad problem much worse.
…Studies and polling suggest that Hispanics who entered the U.S. legally tend to be more conservative on questions of immigration. Some progressive Hispanics have bemoaned this, likening it to selfishly slamming shut a door behind you. Perales insisted that she doesn’t feel threatened, economically or otherwise, by new immigrants. She understands the hopeless circumstances that drive so many people from impoverished and conflict-ridden countries to make the journey north. What worries her is the perception of “crossing without consequences.” She wants the U.S. to broadcast a stricter approach to immigration, not just for the sake of the rule of law and for the stability of her community, but also for the well-being of those thinking of coming here.
…In Lozano’s truck, as we drove on a narrow road that runs parallel to a stretch of border fence— started by the George W. Bush administration, continued under Obama— he was still seething. Progressives exploit the suffering at the southern border to raise money or get booked on television shows, he said, but they won’t actually come see it for themselves. I asked him why.
“Because it’s a romanticized ideology,” Lozano said. “It’s easy for them to romanticize this whole situation. ‘They’re struggling! They need help! They’re coming here for a better life!’ It’s harder for them to come look at bodies of people who died in 107-degree heat. Kids who drowned. Border Patrol agents— who they’re so opposed to— trying to help pregnant mothers. None of this fits their narrative.”
I asked Lozano what he wants Democrats to do about the border crisis. He laughed.
“Democrats refuse to even call it a crisis. They’re gaslighting me,” Lozano said. He ran through a list of requests: more funding for Border Patrol; better technology to monitor movement; more support for humanitarian groups on the ground; stricter processing policies to deter would-be migrants; and, yes, in certain places, reinforced physical barriers. Above all, he wants Democrats to stop signaling that America has an open border. Throughout the 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, he noted, the party’s aspiring leaders took a host of positions— on decriminalizing border crossings, or providing health insurance to undocumented immigrants— that broke with decades of orthodoxy, to appease the progressive base.
“I’m all about the American dream. But this is unsustainable, just totally unsustainable,” Lozano said. “Government is supposed to be about stability. But this party, my party, is inviting all this instability. I’ve had enough.”
Lozano is no longer the mayor of Del Rio. This summer, just a few weeks before I came to town, he served his last day in office. Once a promising young prospect in the Democratic ranks, he quit electoral politics, walking away from a job he loved. Now, he’s thinking about quitting the Democratic Party, too.
Danny Ortega is a legend in local progressive circles and a member of Arizona’s Democratic Party Hall of Fame. As an activist and civil-rights attorney, he has spent decades working in households and neighborhoods where voting is a foreign behavior, and where fear of filling out government forms runs deep, pleading with first- and second-generation Hispanics to get involved with politics. Around the time Obama was first elected, Ortega told me, he sensed a turning point. The GOP’s overt targeting of the Hispanic community—via legislation and law enforcement, rhetoric and rumormongering—helped embolden citizens to finally turn out to vote, and to vote for Democrats. The floodgates had opened. Demography, at last, was going to be destiny.
Until it wasn’t.
“The past few years, our young people have been registering as independents. More than 50 percent of them. We have the data,” Ortega said. “These voters, the future of our community, they are abandoning us. And honestly,” he paused, with a grimace, “I don’t blame them.”
We sat in Ortega’s first-floor law office in Phoenix, now the nation’s fifth-largest city thanks to a mass influx of immigrants, most of whom are Mexican. Surrounded by framed awards and photos with politicians, Ortega was leaning across his desk, sweating through his Hawaiian shirt, shouting mostly at himself. For too long, Ortega said, Democrats have refused to spend real time and resources in the Hispanic community, checking a box during campaign season but rarely engaging between elections. When Democrats do come calling, he said, they treat Hispanics like children: speaking in paternalistic tones about what’s good and bad for them economically; assuming simple and monolithic views on social issues; pandering shamelessly on immigration and promising sweeping reforms that never materialize.
More and more, Ortega told me, Hispanics are suspicious of his party. They question whether Democrats want to solve a problem like immigration; whether they would rather continue to wield themes of racism and xenophobia to mobilize voters against the GOP; whether moral outrage is simply the means to a political end. In his view, the Democratic Party has a credibility crisis, and it’s not specific to immigration. Ortega said that so many adjacent Democratic causes—voting rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights—are viewed skeptically, particularly by younger Hispanics, who perceive Democrats as manipulative at worst and tone-deaf at best. Even if their social-justice efforts are regarded as genuine, Democrats are pushing an agenda that doesn’t resonate with a wide array of voters during this time of economic uncertainty.
“A lot of Latinos, they’re just not moved by these issues,” he said. “They may think Republicans are racist, but some of them are going to vote for the Republicans anyway, because they’re better on the economy, better on small business, better on regulation.”
César Chávez hears it all the time. A member of the Arizona House who represents the most concentrated community of Hispanics in the state, Chávez finds himself engaged in a daily struggle to hold the line for the Democratic Party.
“It’s very hard for an individual to vote for somebody who leans more on social justice than on the economy,” Chávez told me in a coffee shop not far from the state capitol. “When a person has to choose between paying for a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas, every other issue goes out the window.”
…For all the baggage saddling the state GOP—a proud conspiracy theorist as chair; a trio of prominent election deniers running for statewide office— the party’s consultants and strategists are making real inroads in the Hispanic community. They are hiring Hispanic staffers, spending money on Spanish-language media, investing heavily in grassroots infrastructure. This matches descriptions I heard everywhere else: Republicans can sense that the door is opening, and they are preparing to barrel through it.
“I’m telling you,” Chávez said, “if we don’t do something about it, we’re going to lose a big part of this vote.”

Let me throw something else into the pot. Hispanics happen to be the youngest demographic in the country. This morning, Michael Moore noted that “Since 2004, young voters have overwhelmingly leaned Democratic…Overall, 65% of 18-24-year-olds voted for Biden vs 31% who voted for Trump. And this year all signs are pointing to history exceeding itself… On Nov 1, Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)— the leading nonpartisan research center that focuses on young people’s civic and political participation— released its latest report. Based on 41 states where data is available, youth voter registration, age 18-24, is up 6% nationally compared to 2018. And in an election year where a number of races may be decided by a percentage point or two, anything above that in terms of new, young voters can make all the difference for the Democrats. And this increase is in some of the states with the most hotly contested races:

  • +38% Michigan

  • +29% Kansas

  • +20% Colorado

  • +18% Nevada

  • +14% North Carolina

  • +14% Texas

  • +5% Arizona

Moore also noted that “a study by Harvard recently revealed that 40% of all young adults plan to vote in this election— a record! Just two midterm elections ago in 2014, that number was just 19.9%! The study also found that young voters want the Democrats in charge of Congress by a 26 point margin. And what are the main issues these young liberal-leaning voters say are bringing them to the polls?

  • Abortion

  • Protecting Democracy

  • Inflation

  • Climate Crisis

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