US Midterms: Will Latino Voters Continue to Favor Democrats?

Although Latinos now appear to be more decisive in US elections, they also appear to be more hesitant to align themselves to a particular party

A polling station in the US
November 08, 2022 | 10:22 AM

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Bloomberg Línea — Will the 2020 Latino vote trend repeat itself? Two years ago, Latino voters were decisive in the presidential election that put Joe Biden in the White House. A report from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) states that nationwide that year, Latinos cast 16.6 million votes, a 30.9% increase over the 2016 presidential election.

That year, Latinos went to the polls and supported the then Democratic Party candidate by very wide margins across the country. In Arizona, for example, the size of the Latino electorate, its turnout and its overwhelming support for Biden painted the state blue for the first time since 1996. In Georgia and Wisconsin, Latinos also helped swing the states to the Democrats.

Now, can they continue to push the Democrats to victory, or will they radically change parties in these elections? Although Latinos now appear to be more decisive in US elections, they also appear to be more undecided.

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According to a report by Catalist, a Democratic data firm, many Latino voters cannot be counted as a firm part of the Democratic base and instead appear to be persuadable voters based on specific policies, representing a potential opportunity and a staying power challenge for both Democrats and Republicans.

The firm notes that nearly a quarter of Latino voters voted for the first time in 2020, compared to only 14% of the overall electorate. The research suggests that these new voters move between “the political fringes,” meaning they are less ideologically motivated and less consistent in their preferences, and thus may surprise with their leanings in this election.

“They don’t have a fully formed Democratic identity,” Carlos Odio, co-founder and senior vice president of Equis Labs, a progressive polling firm focused on Latino voters, told VOX media. “That vote was borrowed, to some extent [referring to the vote for Biden]. You have a voting segment that is as swingy as it gets right now,” he said.

Still, polls point to a majority of Latinos and black voters preferring Democrats as Republicans continue to disagree with such voters on issues such as immigration and abortion rights. The real challenge will be voter turnout, as midterm elections have historically been marked by low voter turnout.

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Also, it must be kept in mind that traditionally the party of the incumbent president loses control of Congress during midterm elections, so Republicans have a “statistical” advantage.

What the opinion polls say

Pew Research Center estimates that 34.5 million Hispanic Americans are eligible to vote this year, making them the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the US electorate since the last midterm elections. Their power, in terms of voter turnout, is clear, with the number of eligible Latinos having increased by 4.7 million since 2018.

Among voters registered to vote, the firm says, the economy is the top issue that will guide their electoral decision, followed by healthcare, education, violent crime and gun policy. On the economy, Biden is not seen as being favored by voters.

Polls show that the GOP’s economic message is making inroads with Latinos. The latest NYT/Siena poll found that 41% of Latino voters agree with Republicans on economic issues, while 43% lean towards the Democrats.

On abortion, another key issue for this community, an Axios/Ipsos poll found that half of Latinos believe the procedure should be legal, which favors Democrats, while only one-quarter oppose it. But the poll found a generational divide: while about 60% of second- and third-generation Latinos support abortion rights, only 41% of first-generation Latinos said the procedure should be legal.

According to Pew Research Center, when it comes to the president’s job approval rating, Latino voters have mixed views of Biden, with 45% approving of his performance and 54% disapproving. Meanwhile, a clear majority of Latinos (73%) say they do not want former President Donald Trump to remain a national political figure.

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Why are these elections important?

Midterm elections are key, as they determine the balance of power in the US Congress. The party that wins the majority in the House or Senate can practically control the political agenda at a national level, which can benefit or affect the president in office. In this case, the Democrats want to maintain their slim majorities in Congress, however, their struggle to do so appears to be an uphill one.

At stake in the elections are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, so either party could achieve a majority in the lower chamber. Also at stake are 35 seats in the Senate and 36 governorships, among other positions. As of today, the Democrats hold 221 House seats (control is achieved with 218 seats), while the Republicans hold 212.

And, although the Latino or Hispanic population in the United States totals some 62 million and represents more than 19% of the total, their presence in the House of Representatives and the Senate is very low. According to Pew Research Center, in the current legislature there are only 46 federal representatives and senators who identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic, so many expect Latino representation in both chambers to change with these elections.

Strategies to win the Latino vote

The Republican Party has a racially diverse platform of candidates for this election. Their expectations are to win votes in different demographic groups, counter criticism that they are only appealing to white voters and thus increase their voter base, not only for this election but also for the 2024 presidential election, which is already on the horizon.

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In total, 30 Hispanics and 24 Blacks are on the Republican ballot for the House of Representatives. A record number, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Black and/or Latino individuals on the Senate ballot total five.

Meanwhile, Black and Latino Democrats continue to vastly outnumber their Republican peers in Congress, as they have nearly three times as many such House candidates as Republicans, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.