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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Why Dems Must Convince, Not Just Mobilize Hispanic Voters

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and author, with John B. Judis of the forthcoming  “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Washington Post:

The day before (and after) Donald Trump was indicted on 37 federal counts, he chose to devote his time to outreach among Latino voters, giving interviews and visiting a local Miami restaurant. This is not surprising given the surge in Hispanic support he enjoyed in his 2020 reelection bid. He obviously wants to build on that support in 2024.

Can he — or another Republican candidate — do so? To answer this question, it is first necessary to understand the scale and breadth of the Hispanic shift toward the GOP in 2020. Start with Florida, where Trump won half the Hispanic vote, surging among Republican-leaning Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.

But it wasn’t just Florida: Trump improved his performance among Hispanics by 20 points in Wisconsin, 18 points in Texas and Nevada, 12 points in Pennsylvania and Arizona and among urban Hispanics in Chicago, New York and Houston. In Chicago’s predominantly Hispanic precincts, Trump improved his raw vote by 45 percent over 2016.

Catalist data confirm a nationwide shift among Latinos in 2020. The Democrats’ overall margin among this group dropped by 18 pointsrelative to 2016. Cubans had the largest shift of 26 points, but Puerto Ricans moved by 18 points to Trump, Dominicans by 16 points and Mexicans by 12 points. An overall weak spot for Democrats was among Latino men who gave Trump a shocking 44 percent of their two-party vote in 2020.

The unusually broad shift raised the question: Could the trend continue? Since then, the 2022 election contained both good and bad omens for Democrats. The good news is that, with the exception of Florida, they did not lose any further ground among Hispanics. The bad news is that they didn’t win back the ground they lost.

Since then, polls consistently find that Hispanic voters prefer Republicans to Democrats on inflation and handling the economy. Nearly all — 86 percent — Hispanics say economic conditions are only fair or poor and about three-quarters say the same thing about their personal financial situation. By 2 to 1 they say President Biden’s policies are hurting, not helping, them and their families. In a just-released 6,000 respondent poll from the Survey Center on American Life (SCAL) on evolving party coalitions, almost two-thirds believe Biden has accomplished not that much or little or nothing during his time in office.

And in a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, Hispanics preferred the way Trump handled the economy when he was in office to Biden’s performance so far by 55 to 36 percent.

Beneath this discontent is an emerging gulf between the cultural outlook of many Hispanics and the increasingly left-wing values of the Democratic Party. In the SCAL survey, half of Hispanics think Democrats are “too extreme” and slightly more than half think Democrats don’t share their values. A healthy minority, 42 percent, believe the Democratic Party “looks down on people like me.” This is not to say Republicans come out any better on these measures — they don’t — but simply to illustrate how many Hispanics struggle to identify with Democrats.

Take the issue of racism in our society. Is racism “built into our society, including into its policies and institutions” or does racism “come from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions?” In the SCAL survey, by 60 to 39 percent, Hispanics chose the latter view rather than the received wisdom in Democratic circles that racism is baked into society and institutions.

In contrast, White, college-graduate liberals chose the “structural racism” position by an overwhelming 81 to 19 percent.

Or consider the question of transgender athletes participating in team sports. Should “transgender athletes … be able to play on sports teams that match their current gender identity” or should “transgender athletes … only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their birth gender?” By 66 to 30 percent, Hispanics in the SCAL survey choose the second option. For Hispanic men, the margin is 74 to 22 percent. White, college-graduate liberals, on the other hand, believe eligibility should be dictated by current gender identity by 68 to 31 percent.

The same pattern can be observed on issues ranging from the funding of police departments to the “greatness of America” to the continued use of fossil fuels.

It seems plausible that Trump or another Republican could trigger a second Hispanic surge toward the GOP in 2024. That is not to say Republicans will have an easy time of it; Hispanics are still more likely to identify with the Democratic Party and tend to view it as being generally “better for Hispanics.” That produces a default presumption among many Hispanics that they should vote Democratic despite a lack of enthusiasm for the party. But that default is eroding, creating a Republican opportunity.

The challenge for Democrats is this: The party can no longer rely on simply mobilizing this constituency. They will have to convince these voters that Democrats share the values of a community that is socially moderate-to-conservative, upwardly mobile and patriotic with down-to-earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, good schools and public safety.

If they don’t, Republicans will seize the opportunity to move more Hispanics — especially men — into their camp and further erode that community’s longtime loyalty to the Democrats.

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