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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Skelley: Latino Drift to GOP Real, But Overstated

At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley writes:

In the 2020 election, the rightward shift among Latino voters raised eyebrows. Post-election surveys have disagreed about the exact split in the Latino vote, but it appears around 3 in 5 (or slightly more) voted for President Biden over then-President Donald Trump. Yet many of those same surveys as well as precinct-level analysis of the 2020 vote suggest that, compared with his performance in 2016, Trump made gains among Latinos — and in some places, quite sizable ones. Going forward, such swings among Latinos — the largest ethnic or racial minority group in the country— could affect each party’s chance of carrying important states like Arizona, Florida and Texas while also putting Democratic-leaning turf in play for the GOP.

Yet for all the talk about Republicans making serious inroads with Latino voters, new data from Gallup suggests that Latinos’ lurch toward the GOP could be overstated, at least when it comes to how they identify with the two major parties. In Gallup’s survey data for 2021, the pollster found that 56 percent of Hispanic Americans identified as Democrats or as independents who leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 26 percent identified as Republican or as leaning toward the GOP. Those figures represent very little change from what Gallup found in 2020 and, as the chart below shows, largely fall in line with Hispanic party-identification data over the past decade.

Skelley explains further,

And among Latinos, ties to the two parties may be particularly weak because they aren’t as likely as other Americans to form a strong partisan identity at a young age. For starters, about one-third of Latinos weren’t born in the U.S., which means many haven’t developed a strong allegiance to either party. As a result, many first-generation Latinos haven’t instilled loyalty to either party in their children, which is often how younger voters in the U.S. form their partisan identities.1 It’s no surprise then that younger Latinos, in particular, hold only weak affinities for the two major parties or identify as independent, as they often have to find their own way politically….These looser partisan attachments mean that a sizable bloc of the Latino electorate is persuadable.

Skelley notes that there is evidence that some of the Latino drift toward Trump can be attributed to younger Latino voters, but “Biden’s approval rating has fallen especially hard among Latinos, and like other Americans, Latinos are particularly worried about issues like the economy, COVID-19 and crime, which could benefit Republicans, especially if immigration, an issue that has benefited Democrats among Latinos, remains mostly sidelined.”

Skelley concludes,

“Still, at this point it seems more likely than not that Latino voters will continue to prefer Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. However, given the 2020 election results, the prominent issues that voters are worried about and Biden’s standing with the public, there’s plenty of reason to think that Republicans can further trim Democrats’ lead among Latino voters in 2022 — even if Democrats retain a sizable party-ID advantage among all Latinos.”

In close elections, that could be decisive.

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