Hispanic voters are rapidly reevaluating their relationship with the Democratic Party, creating a problem for Democrats that, in some ways, mirrors their struggle to retain working-class voters.
A Quinnipiac poll published last week found that Hispanic voters disapproved of President Joe Biden’s job performance more than any other racial group, with just 12% of Hispanics saying they “approve strongly” of how he is handling the office.
It followed a string of surveys showing Latino voters souring over the past year on both Biden specifically and on Democrats generally: By December of last year, less than a year into Biden’s presidency, a Wall Street Journal poll found that Hispanic voters were evenly split on whether they would vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the next election.
Democrats have similarly hemorrhaged the support of less-educated, working-class voters over the past several cycles as far-left liberals have steered the party’s attention toward polarizing social and cultural issues and away from kitchen-table issues that, against the backdrop of inflation and economic uncertainty, have eclipsed virtually everything else Democratic voters typically prioritize.
“I think the single biggest reason is inflation,” Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, told the Washington Examiner when asked why Latino voters are shifting rightward. “Hispanic Americans are not happy because their income is not keeping up with inflation.”
He added, “Hispanic Americans have the same economic concerns that other Americans have, and it’s a big problem.”
The Wall Street Journal December poll found that while Hispanic voters were split on which party they would back if an election were held today, with a significant number undecided, a majority of them saw Republicans in Congress as more capable of tackling inflation and securing the border.
Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic analyst and author of The Emerging Democratic Majority, a book that predicted Democrats would someday enjoy lasting majorities due to the rise of nonwhite voters as a share of the population, has attributed some of Democrats’ struggles with Hispanics to the party’s refusal to focus on their working-class concerns.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Democrats have seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with ‘people of color’ and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer,” Teixeira wrote in December.
“This was a flawed assumption,” Teixeira added. “The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working-class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares, above all, about jobs, the economy, and healthcare.”
Former President Donald Trump presided over a shift of Hispanics away from the Democratic Party during his four years in office as he solidified his image as a champion of the less-educated, lower-income electorate.
In heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of Chicago, for example, Trump attracted 45% more of the Latino vote in 2020 than he did in 2016, according to a New York Times analysis of precinct-level data.
Overall, Hispanic voters swung toward Trump by 8 points between the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, according to the Democratic data firm Catalist.
Voters with less education have increasingly moved toward Republicans — regardless of their race.
A Gallup poll last month revealed that Biden had lost the most support since taking office among voters who never attended college and lost the least support among voters who had attained postgraduate degrees.
The same poll found even steeper drops in support from Hispanic voters, with Biden’s approval rating falling 21% from January 2021 to March 2022.
Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, said the Democratic Party’s decision to channel so much of its energy into liberal social issues and less energy into the economic issues prioritized by the working class could be causing some Hispanic voters to consider casting ballots for Republicans next time.
“I think a lot of the energy in the Democratic Party recently, philosophically, has been driven by a certain kind of progressivism which can sound preachy and elitist, and certainly some of the spokespeople for the most prominent faces of that can come off that way,” Reeher told the Washington Examiner.
“And part of that, I think, may not resonate all that well with some Hispanics because of the way it sort of fits with their more conservative social values.”
“There are a lot of Catholics in the group … so [it’s] not necessarily that they’re anti-identity, that they’re anti-gay or anti-transgender, but … if that’s where you’re putting so much of your messaging and focus, it just may put them off a little bit in their confidence that the party is really pushing the things that are most important to their lives.”
Working-class voters have also turned sharply against the Democratic Party’s liberal ideology on issues such as gender and abortion, as well as the perception that Democrats are increasingly intolerant of any dissent on those issues.
One year after a majority of Hispanics voted for Biden, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lost the Hispanic vote by as many as 12 points in Virginia in 2021, a race that turned on whether his party had lost touch with the concerns of everyday parents.