The Democratic Party coalition may be based on a big tent-- a too big tent-- but it isn't a healthy robust coalition. And it can't afford to lose any components, let alone a major component like Hispanic voters, who have made the Democrats competitive or dominant in New Mexico (48.8%), Texas (39.3%), California (39.0%), Arizona (31.3%), Nevada (28.7%), Florida (25.6%), Colorado (21.5%), New Jersey (20.2%), New York (19.0%) and Illinois (17.1%). Only 11 states have fewer than 5% Hispanic populations: West Virginia (1.6%), Maine (1.6%), Vermont (1.9%), Mississippi (3.0%), Kentucky (3.7%), North Dakota (3.7%), New Hampshire (3.7%), South Dakota (3.8%), Ohio (3.8%), Montana (3.8%), Missouri (4.2%) and Alabama (4.3%).
And as far as congressional districts, there are some where Hispanics command huge majorities-- these are the 10 most heavily Hispanic districts with the percentage of the Hispanic population, along with the incumbent and the percentage of the vote Biden (who won 9 of the 10) got in 2020:
CA-40- 87%-- Lucille Roybal-Allard (D)- 77.1%
TX-34- 84%-- Filemon Vela (Blue Dog)- 51.5
TX-15- 81%-- Vicente González (Blue Dog)- 50.4%
TX-16- 79%-- Veronica Escobar (D)- 66.4%
TX-29- 77%-- Sylvia Garcia (D)- 65.9%
TX-28- 77%-- Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog)- 51.6%
FL-27- 76%-- Maria Salazar (R)- 51.3%
CA-21- 74%-- David Valadao (R)- 54.4%
CA-51- 71%-- Juan Vargas (D)- 66.9%
FL-25- 71%-- Mario Díaz-Balart (R)- 38.2%
Clearly, the Democrats can't start losing Hispanic voters, although they already do badly among Cuban-Americans and Venzuelan-Americans, largely because so many of the Cubans (FL-27) and Venzuelans (FL-25) in this country come from right-wing backgrounds in their own countries. After the 2020 election, in which Biden did worse than either Obama or even Hillary, Democrats started looking into what went wrong/ In a report just days after the election, Vox noted that "Hispanic voters in America-- whose political leanings vary with gender, generation, country of origin, religion, and how long they have lived in the US-- often defy simple explanations, and this year proved no exception... In Texas, predominantly Hispanic border counties, previously considered Democratic strongholds, swung dramatically toward Trump." And a few days later (also Vox: "[I]t came as a surprise to some Democrats that Trump was able to eat into Biden’s margins among Latinos in certain corners of the country. In Florida’s Miami-Dade County and the south Texas borderlands, both of which are majority-Latino areas once considered Democratic strongholds, Biden underperformed dramatically in 2020 compared with Clinton in 2016... Latino voters make up an essential component of the Democratic coalition, but the party hasn’t historically treated them that way. In recent presidential campaigns, Democrats have typically waited until the final weeks before Election Day to conduct outreach in the Latino community, perpetuating the perception that Latinos are an afterthought.
In October of this year Texas Monthly reported that "Last year, McAllen experienced the biggest shift in party vote share, toward Donald Trump, of any large city in the country save for Laredo, 150 miles to the northwest. In both border towns, Trump improved on his 2016 results by more than 23 points. Many predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods in Texas’s major cities, such as San Antonio’s Prospect Hill, also experienced double-digit shifts toward the incumbent president, though they ultimately stayed Democratic. But no area fled further into the GOP camp than South Texas, where 18 percent of the state’s Hispanic population lives... Banking on an identity-based appeal, Democrats last year trotted out the sort of bilingual messaging in South Texas that has played well among Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and Puerto Ricans in New York, focused on a celebration of diversity and immigration. Republicans, by contrast, recognized that Hispanic South Texans share many of the same values as non-Hispanic white voters elsewhere in Texas and swept in with a pitch about defending gun rights, promoting the oil and gas industry, restricting abortion, and supporting law enforcement. Republicans proved more persuasive."
This week, New York Magazine published a piece by Eric Levitz with the same title as the one in Texas Monthly: Why Democrats Are Losing Ground With Hispanic Voters. He got the ball rolling by noting that "it’s possible that no political development worries blue America’s operatives more than Hispanic voters’ rightward drift. Biden’s approval rating has declined with just about every demographic. But no racial or ethnic group has soured on the president more than Hispanics, according to FiveThirtyEight’s aggregation of all available polls. In one recent survey from the Wall Street Journal, Hispanic voters were about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats on the question of which party they intended to support in next year’s midterms. And in a hypothetical Biden versus Trump rematch, the two candidates were statistically tied among Hispanics."
[A]ll this comes in the wake of an election that saw the GOP gain eight points among Hispanic voters, according to the Democratic data firm Catalist.
What makes this trend so menacing for Democrats is that it threatens to block the party’s most plausible path to retaining federal power even if white working-class unionist Democrats in the Rust Belt go extinct. Hispanics are already the largest category of non-whites in the United States, comprising 19 percent of the U.S. population. Between 2008 and 2020, the Hispanic share of the electorate increased by about 30 percent. And the group is poised to grow considerably in the years to come.
Thus, if one assumed that Democrats would keep winning roughly 70 percent of the Hispanic vote-- as they did in 2012 and 2016-- then the party’s medium-term prospects in the Sun Belt looked promising. Even if the post-industrial Midwest kept trending away from the party, Texas’s rising Hispanic population could eventually turn the Lone Star State blue and make the Electoral College biased toward Democrats in the process.
On the other hand, if Hispanic voters are in the process of emulating the political trajectory of the so-called “white ethnics”-- which is to say, growing more conservative as a portion of the population assimilates into whiteness and moves up the socioeconomic ladder-- then Democrats would be in profound trouble. Already, due to the party’s scant support in overrepresented rural areas, Democrats need to win large popular majorities in order to compete for federal power. If Hispanic voters become an evenly divided voting bloc, the GOP could lay claim to a coalition that isn’t merely more geographically efficient than the Democrats, but larger to boot. In which case, Republicans would be in position to dominate American politics for the foreseeable future.
So it’s pretty important for Democrats to figure out why they’re losing ground with Hispanic voters and what they can do to stop it.
Earlier this year, Equis Research, a progressive data firm dedicated to analyzing Hispanic voters, released an in-depth report on where Trump’s gains with the ethnic group came from, in both geographic and demographic terms. Among its findings: Trump won over a significant number of previously nonvoting Hispanics, gained more new votes from Latinas than Latinos (even as he did better with the latter in absolute terms), and did especially well in Miami-Dade County and Rio Grande Valley.
This week, Equis released the second half of its 2020 postmortem, which attempts to explain why these rightward shifts materialized through an analysis of large-sample, post-election surveys of Hispanic voters.
The report offers Democrats cause for comfort, along with plenty of grounds for concern. Here are four of its more notable findings:
1) COVID-19 has likely played a big role in pushing Hispanic voters right.
In Equis’s poll, two-thirds of Hispanic 2020 voters voiced approval for Donald Trump’s position on reopening the economy, while 55 percent endorsed his view that Americans should “live without fear of COVID.” This is not entirely surprising. Hispanics are disproportionately likely to work in industries that were adversely impacted by shutdown orders, such as hospitality and food service.
For a small but significant minority of Hispanics, Trump’s relative nonchalance about the COVID pandemic proved decisive in their vote choice: Among Hispanic Democrats and independents who backed Trump in 2020, 34 percent said that COVID was the most important issue in determining their vote. Nearly as high a percentage named “the economy”; obviously, in 2020, public-health policy had major economic implications.
Thus, it looks like Democrats’ reputation as the party more serious about combatting COVID-- a clear asset with some segments of the voting public-- backfired with marginal Hispanic voters, who feared the economic consequences of stringent anti-pandemic protocols.
This is a relatively encouraging finding for Democrats. It suggests that the GOP’s gains in 2020 partly derived from a (God willing) temporary policy controversy, and that Biden’s current struggles may also be partly attributable to that same ephemeral issue.
2) A large number of Democratic Hispanics are quite ideologically conservative.
Equis finds that the GOP’s attempts to brand the Democratic Party as “socialist” likely had an impact in 2020. Nationally, by a narrow margin, Hispanic 2020 voters said that they were more concerned about the Democratic Party embracing socialism than about the Republican Party embracing fascism. Equis tried to ascertain what these voters meant when they expressed fear of socialism. The most commonly cited concern was that under socialism, “people will become lazy/dependent on government.” Unlike fears of the suppression of free speech, this concern indicates a skepticism of social democracy, not merely totalitarian Stalinism. Which is to say, it suggests that there may be a genuine ideological tension between Joe Biden’s Democratic Party and the anti-socialism segment of the Hispanic electorate.
One interpretation of Hispanic anti-socialism is to see it as an artifact of an older generation’s direct experience with socialist regimes in Latin America. But Equis’s data suggests that it’s at least as reflective of a younger generation’s integration into America’s conservative political culture: Concern about socialism was actually higher among fourth-generation Hispanic voters than among those whose families arrived in the U.S. more recently.
Equis’s most interesting-- and concerning-- finding on this subject concerns the votes that Democrats haven’t lost. The firm finds that among Hispanic voters who still support the Democratic Party, about 35 percent fear socialism more than fascism. Critically, this third of Hispanic Democrats subscribes to a wide range of conservative cultural values. By overwhelming margins, they believe that Black people should overcome prejudice by “working their way up … without special favors” like other minority groups did; that people mainly get ahead through hard work rather than luck; and that “God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith.”
What keeps these voters in the Democratic coalition appears to be their sense of ethnic solidarity; more than 75 percent of the group agreed with the statement, “When things get worse for Latinos and Hispanics in this country, they get worse for my family.” (Elsewhere in the poll, Equis finds that Democrats have a large advantage among Hispanic voters on the question, “Which party is better for Hispanics?”)
But ethnic ties tend to grow less politically binding the longer an immigrant group is in the United States. Over time, one would therefore expect a rising share of Hispanic voters with conservative values to begin privileging ideology over ethnicity in their voting behavior. The fact that such a large share of Hispanic Democrats subscribe to conservative values therefore suggests that the GOP’s recent gains could reflect the beginning of a long-term trend, rather than a COVID-era aberration.
That interpretation is buttressed by the analysis of Democratic data scientist David Shor, who finds that Democrats’ losses among Hispanics in 2020 were concentrated among self-identified conservatives. And it is also supported by voter file data obtained by Catalist, which shows that the party was losing ground with Hispanics before the COVID pandemic began. In the 2018 midterms-- when the U.S. electorate as a whole moved sharply toward Democrats-- the GOP’s share of the Hispanic vote increased by three points nationally.
3) Democrats might gain Hispanic vote share by emphasizing immigration … and/or moving right on the issue.
Equis finds that between 2016 and 2020, the salience of immigration to Hispanic voters declined considerably. As COVID and the recession put economic concerns at top of mind, and Trump moderated his immigration rhetoric during the general election campaign, a Hispanic voter’s views on immigration became less predictive of their partisan allegiance. This likely redounded to Trump’s benefit: As immigration became less salient, ideologically conservative Hispanics, who’d previously supported Democrats out of a sense of ethnic obligation, felt more comfortable voting for their (right-wing) values.
In isolation, this finding would suggest that Democrats can increase their Hispanic vote share by raising the salience of immigration. That would be a challenging conclusion in some respects, as de-emphasizing immigration appears to be optimal for winning over marginal white working-class voters.
But even among Hispanics, the political advisability of progressive immigration messaging is not entirely clear. Large majorities of 2020 Hispanic voters disapproved of Trump’s border wall and family-separation policies. But about half of them voiced approval for reducing legal immigration — a position that puts them to the right of many congressional Republicans on that issue. Meanwhile, 55 percent of Hispanics support more funding for border security.
4) Democrats have lost their historic edge on the question of which party is better for American workers.
Fortunately for Democrats, ethnic identity isn’t the only thing binding Hispanic voters to their coalition. By a 20-point margin, Hispanics see Democrats as the better party on “fairness and equality”; the party that “cares more about people like me”; and the party more committed to expanding economic opportunity. Meanwhile, the GOP still suffers from its reputation as the party more deferential to “big corporations.”
But on the question of which party is “better for American workers,” Democrats no longer have the upper hand, according to Equis. This is significant, since being the party of working people has long been central to the Democratic Party’s brand. It’s unclear whether the Trump-era GOP has gained credibility on this score by embracing a putatively pro-worker protectionism, or because in 2019 Trump presided over record-low Hispanic unemployment, or if the finding is just statistical noise. Regardless, the upshot of Equis’s survey is that Hispanic voters believe that Democrats care more about workers, but aren’t convinced that the party knows how to actually deliver for them. If inflation eventually ebbs while the labor market remains strong, it’s possible that Biden and his party will gain ground on the latter score.
Equis offers a few other sources of consolation. Democrats lost relatively little ground with Hispanic voters in Arizona, which also happens to be a state where Hispanic voters reported exceptionally high levels of contact from Democratic campaigns. It’s possible, then, that merely investing more resources into Hispanic communities could move the needle. Separately, the Republican Party is charitably declining to make the most of its opening with the demographic group. Even as Hispanic voting trends indicate that the GOP has little to fear from democracy, Republicans have been doubling down on the authoritarian politics of white revanchism.
Nevertheless, the available evidence suggests that Democrats are at a real risk of suffering steady erosion in their share of the Hispanic vote, especially if they fail to convince a larger share of the demographic to see Democratic values as their own.
Latino voters are an immensely powerful voting bloc in California and I reached out to some of the congressional candidates running in the state. Shervin Aazami, who's running in a new district and being opposed by long-time establishment shill Brad Sherman, on the west side of L.A. said that "These reports should be a wake-up call to Democrats that we are woefully failing the will of voters. There are important policy issues that are unique to Hispanic and Latinx voters, but the kitchen table issues-- healthcare, employment, wages, education, small business support, housing-- are universal. It is maddening to watch Democrats campaign on progressive policies like universal childcare, paid family leave, or lowering drug prices only to squander those very efforts because of conservative obstructionists. If Democratic leadership is concerned about losing Latinx and Hispanic voters, then here's a solution-- honor your promises. Pass the original Build Back Better plan. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Permanently extend the Child Tax Credits. Pass the damn PRO Act so that greedy corporations can't prevent employees from unionizing even while paying them starvation wages and offering zero benefits. And while immigration reform may not be the top priority for all Latinx voters, it certainly is an important issue for thousands I have spoken with in my district. We still need to abolish ICE and private detention centers. We shouldn't allow an unelected Senate parliamentarian to reject immigration reform policies that would ensure millions of undocumented Americans from being deported. Biden’s promise to push Congress to legislatively guarantee a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers is nowhere. Democrats have a tiny window left to pass progressive reforms that meaningfully and tangibly improve people's lives. That is the only effective defense against a republican onslaught in the midterms and Trumpism in 2024."
Please consider contributing to the campaigns of the Blue America-endorsed candidates by clicking here or on the 2022 California candidates' thermometer below. Lourin Hubbard is running in a Chicano-majority district and he's eager to replace Devin Nunes. He told me last night that his advice "for those running in districts with large Latino populations like my own district here in California’s 22nd would be to stop playing identity politics. We have to earn every vote and not just 'count' on Latino votes. To solve this issue, it takes work. It takes deep canvassing to build trust. It’s not just showing up every 4 years and wanting their voters. At the end of the day, Latino voters are like any other voting bloc; we need to speak to the things they care about. We need to speak to them about how our policies will benefit them and their families. Our message should be that every hardworking person should have the opportunity to earn a decent living, receive adequate health care, get a great education for their children, and retire with dignity. Turns out engagement is what gets voters engaged."
Culver City Mayor Daniel Lee, a candidate for the open seat Karen Bass is leaving told me that "Democrats are losing Chicano, Hispanic, Latinx voters across the country because we are not responding to their concerns. In the 37 district and surrounding district covid-19 had ravaged Chicano communities with higher rates of infection and higher rates of death. This is partially due to the fact that many jobs done by people in Latinx communities (and communities of color more generally) don't provide healthcare or sick leave. So, the choice has been either go to work and risk infecting your family or stay home and risk eviction. This is an impossible choice. Medicare for All could help change this situation. Comprehensive immigration reform could help documented and undocumented residents find jobs that have better benefits and better working protections. These policies aren't pie in the sky they are ones that will provide practicle relief to working class families. Hispanic or otherwise."
How about a little music to start the day from everyone's favorite East L.A. band? Do you dance?