One of the most talked about electoral phenomena by pundits in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections was the supposed erosion of Latino voter support for Democratic Party candidates.
While no one ventured to predict that the Latino vote would favor the Republican Party en masse in 2022, pundits almost in unison foreshadowed that Democratic losses among Latino voters would be of such magnitude that they would deliver what Republicans needed to win in several competitive races.
According to a survey of Latino voting behavior in the 2022 midterm elections, the experts' predictions were way off. The 2022 Midterm Election Voter Survey (MEVP), organized by the African American Research Collaborative (AARC), found that Latinos are not abandoning the Democratic Party in any significant way.
The survey, which sampled more than 12,000 voters of all ethnicities, including 5,400 Latino voters in 11 states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Nevada, revealed that nearly two-thirds of Latino voters supported Democratic candidates nationally.
"Overall, this election was consistent with historical Hispanic voting patterns, with two-thirds of Latinos supporting Democrats and one-third supporting Republicans," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, vice president of Latino ballot initiative for UnidosUS, one of the organizations that sponsored the poll.
It wasn't all good news for Democrats. The poll found that Republicans have gained some ground among Latinos largely because of inflation but also because of Democrats' lack of communication with Latinos.
For Martinez De Castro, the poll is "a wake-up call for both parties," as it demonstrates the Democrats' communication failures with Latinos, and also shows how Republicans remain "radically out of sync" with Latino priorities in areas such as abortion, gun violence, health care.
Why did the 'red wave' predictions fail?
To be sure, Latinos are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the U.S. electorate since the last midterm elections, increasing by 4.7 million since 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. That accounts for 62% of the total growth of eligible voters in the U.S. during this time.
For Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, president of the liberal National Democratic Network, "the Democratic Party's success with Hispanic voters has been arguably the most important project for the Democratic Party in the last 20 years."
In an interview Thursday with the Council of the Americas, Rosenberg explained that "the reason I think a lot of the media bought into the Hispanic Republican narrative was that we had a drop-off in 2020."
Rosenberg, who was one of the few experts to correctly predict not only Latino voting behavior but also how well Democratic candidates would do in the 2022 midterm elections. His explanation is that while Republicans have gained a slightly larger percentage of the Hispanic vote, there are simply more Hispanic voters to count these days. So, even though Democrats won "a slightly smaller slice of a bigger pie, you still have more pie," he explained.
For Rosenberg, the new Democratic 'blue wall' is the Latino stronghold is the Southwest United States. His research shows that in 2004, when George W. Bush won Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, Democrats enjoyed only a 700,000 margin nationally over Republicans among Latino voters.
By the time Democrats won all four states in 2020, that margin had ballooned to 4.5 million votes nationally. "It was the first time a Democrat won those four states in 80 years," said Rosenberg.
In 2004, Republicans controlled five of the eight Senate seats in those four states and 14 out of 21 House seats. Democrats now control all eight of those Senate seats and 14 out of 23 House seats, Rosenberg pointed out.
"Our strong performance with Latino voters, Hispanic voters was critical to us keeping the Senate and potentially making the house much closer than anybody anticipated," said Rosenberg.
"Our performance in the Southwest has literally changed American politics. If they can't break through, as our population grows, our margins will continue to increase. If they can't reverse some of those gains, then an entire part of the country will move away from the Republican Party, making their electoral college map narrower and narrower," he added.
In the the 2022 midterm elections, Texas' Rio Grande Valley also went overwhelmingly Democratic, noting the defeat of two highly touted Republican Hispanics, Mayra Flores and Cassy Garcia. Flores, an evangelical Republican congresswoman who won a special election in June, was defeated by a margin of 8.4% by her Democratic challenger Vicente Gonzalez.
What happened in Florida?
According to the AARC poll, Latino support for Democratic candidates was overwhelming in competitive states like Michigan (74%), Pennsylvania (73%), Colorado (71%), and Arizona (67%). But Florida, where the Latino vote favored Republicans by 54%, was, as always, the big exception.
For Rosenberg, it is important to recognize the effectiveness of attacks branding Democrats as socialists among Cuban and Venezuelan voters, predominantly in Florida. Attacks that have far less resonance among people in Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
"Cubans and Venezuelans are not behaving like the rest of the Hispanic community in the United States," said Rosenberg, adding that Hispanics are not a monolithic bloc and behave in different ways in different parts of the country and among groups of different geographic origin.
"We are at a point where this concept at least in elections of a Hispanic vote becomes outdated, anachronistic ... broad generalizations of the Hispanic vote are no longer useful," he added.
Rosenberg and others say Governor Ron DeSantis' resistance to the state's shutdown during the onset of the pandemic played well with Republicans who saw it as a fight "for the economic and social life of the people of Florida."
The message resonated especially with Hispanic male breadwinners. "There's a sense of not being sure that Democrats are on their side to make a living for their families," said Rosenberg. "We have to address that," he added.
By contrast, the Republican Party invested heavily in Florida's Hispanic communities, said Wadi Gaitán, a Miami-based former Republican Party official.
Gaitan gave credit to many in the South Florida immigrant community - especially from Venezuela and Colombia - who although not yet eligible to vote are very active - and influential - in local politics, especially on radio and social media platforms. "They participate a lot in events and make sure to talk to candidates," Gaitan said.
"There's an environment where being a Hispanic Republican is mainstream. These days being a Hispanic Democrat is swimming upstream in South Florida," Gaitan said.
The Biden factor vs. the Trump factor
The AARC poll seemed to disprove that Trump's surprising gains in 2020 with the Latino vote were an irreversible trend.
"This was not a course correction, or a wave election, as we have seen in years past, particularly in 2010 and 2018. Rather, Latino voters are generally supportive of the Biden administration's policies," said Gabriel Sanchez, vice president of research at BSP Research, whcih conducted the poll.
In fact, the survey found that Latino voters do not have a favorable opinion of former President Donald Trump. Two-thirds of voters expressed a negative opinion of Trump, and believe that if he runs for president again he will only sow more hate and division.
The poll showed Latino rejection of Trump's 'Make America Great Again' agenda. "MAGA is toxic with Latino voters," said Hector Sanchez Barba, director of Mi Familia Vota. "They reject extremism," he added.
The poll also revealed that while perceptions of the Republican Party among Hispanics have improved slightly, most still feel it does not care enough about their community.
President Joe Biden, on the other hand, enjoys much higher popularity among Hispanics (64%) than among white voters (42%).
The poll found that 83% of Latino voters support Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, while more than 90% support the president's proposal that Medicare be allowed to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs.
Latino voters are not immune to economic issues. The poll found that out-of-pocket problems such as inflation, gasoline prices and health care costs are the top concerns of Latino voters. But that concern did not necessarily determine how they voted.
"It's important for both parties to recognize that Latinos are not a single-issue voting bloc, but have a range of priorities that require attention in terms of congressional response," Sanchez added.
For example, the poll found that 82% of Latino voters want to see immediate action to protect DREAMers, as well as easier access to voting (89%) and punishment for white nationalists and extremists who promote hate and attacks against minorities (70%).
An overwhelming 75% of Latino voters also support a nationwide ban on AR15-style assault rifles, while 80% of Latino voters believe abortion should remain legal.
Sanchez warns, however, that as more Latinos become eligible to vote, their role will become increasingly important in U.S. elections.
Thirty-six percent of Hispanic voters in 2022 voted for the first time in a midterm election, and each year approximately one million Latino U.S. citizens turn 18 and become eligible to vote, making them the fastest growing segment of the electorate.
"New voters require a significant investment in outreach. And that needs to happen soon, much sooner than we saw now in 2022," Sanchez warned.