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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: A Postcard from the Hispanic Working Class

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

It’s been widely noted that Biden has been running poorly among Hispanics compared to 2020 when he carried this demographic by 23 points (which itself was a 16-point drop from Clinton’s 39-point margin over Trump among these voters in 2016). In the most recent New York Times/Siena poll, Biden’s margin over Trump among Latinos is a slim 9 points. That is close to Biden’s average Hispanic lead in polls since the beginning of the year.

I’ve been curious about the role of Hispanic working-class (noncollege) voters in driving this trend. An underreported aspect of the Hispanic shift toward Trump in 2020 was how heavily it was concentrated among working-class voters. In the Catalist data, there was a 19-point margin shift toward Trump among working-class voters but just 9 points among college-educated Hispanics. For the first time, Democrats did better overall among college Hispanics than among working-class Hispanics—a reverse class gap. Are these trends continuing in this campaign cycle?

It’s hard to get detailed data comparing working-class and college-educated Hispanics—that’s rarely reported and most polls don’t have adequate sample sizes. But a new poll of 4,038 registered voters conducted by YouGov for The Liberal Patriot and Blueprint allows for a detailed comparison of these groups not just on Biden-Trump voting intentions but also on policy views and priorities. There are some big, big differences:

1. In terms of voting intentions, Biden leads by just one point among working-class Hispanics but by 39 points among their college-educated counterparts. Interestingly, this 38-point reverse class gap is actually larger than the class gap in this poll among whites (30 points).

2. Two-thirds (67 percent) of working-class Hispanics feel that “inflation is still a very serious problem that is not improving” compared to less than half (49 percent) of college Hispanics. The class gap is about the same on whether the economy is doing poorly or not, with working-class Hispanics way more pessimistic.

3. By 5 points working-class Hispanics think Trump did a better job on the economy than Biden is now doing, while college Hispanics give Biden the nod by a thumping 30 points. Working-class Hispanics give Biden an overall approval rating of 42 percent, less than the 45 percent they give Trump. College Hispanics are starkly different, giving Biden 63 percent approval and Trump just 26 percent.

4. These differences in views of Trump and Biden come out strongly in a series of questions on which presidential candidate is closer to voters’ views in various areas. Among working-class Hispanics, support for Trump runs around even and sometimes better in areas like building up America’s manufacturing capacity, ensuring America’s energy independence, being patriotic, fighting crime and ensuring public safety, and protecting American interests around the world. But in these areas college Hispanics uniformly prefer Biden over Trump by margins of 30-40 points. These assessments are remarkably different but they are consistent with the reverse class gap in voting intentions.

5. There are also stark differences in underlying ideology and partisanship. Working-class Hispanics are about 30 percent liberal in this poll and 70 percent moderate-to-conservative. But more than half of college-educated Hispanics say they’re liberal in orientation. And they skew dramatically Democratic in partisanship, identifying with or leaning toward the Democrats by 50 points over the Republicans. Working-class Hispanics, however, only favor the Democrats by a modest 8 points.

6. The poll also asked about a wide range of specific policy ideas—40 in all. Here the differences between working-class and college-educated Hispanics tend to be smaller, perhaps indicating an opening for the Democrats. Indeed, for the most popular items tested in the poll, working-class and college Hispanics are united in supporting these proposals by wide margins. These include:

  • “Ban businesses from charging consumers hidden or misleading fees for live event tickets, hotels, apartment rentals, and other services.”
  • “Increase the number of prescription drugs that Medicare can negotiate the price of for seniors.”
  • “Require pharmaceutical companies to charge American consumers the lowest price they charge consumers in foreign countries.”
  • “Cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it.”
  • “Protect Medicare and Social Security from funding cuts or increases in the age of eligibility.”
  • “Permanently extend the Affordable Care Act (ACA) protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

7. Interestingly, contradicting the image of Hispanic voters as being lenient on the illegal immigration issue, we find surprising unity between working-class and college-educated Hispanics on some pretty tough proposals for dealing with the problem. For example, on “Use existing presidential powers to stop illegal migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border,” and “Deputize the National Guard and local law enforcement to assist with rapidly removing gang members and criminals living illegally in the United States,” margins in favor of these proposals range from 25-50 points across the two groups.

8. It is true, however, that working-class Hispanics are even tougher on some immigration proposals. They favor “Build a full wall on the U.S.-Mexico border,” by 18 points while college Hispanics oppose the idea by 19 points. And working-class Hispanics favor “Restrict the ability of migrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum,” by a whopping 39 points while college Hispanics are roughly split down the middle.

These data strongly suggest that not only are working-class Hispanics driving the Hispanic trend toward Trump and the GOP but also that working-class and college-educated Hispanics have very different political outlooks and concerns that are obscured by thinking of them as an undifferentiated mass or, worse, “people of color.” The beginning of wisdom is recognizing these class differences and adapting political appeals to take those differences into account.

The days when Democrats could get away with thinking of Hispanics as one of “their” minority groups are, or should be, over. And here’s something that should concentrate their mind when considering the working-class Hispanics problem and how seriously to take it. The simple fact of the matter is that there are far, far more working-class than college-educated Hispanics. According to States of Change data, Hispanic eligible voters nationwide are 78 percent working class. And working-class levels among Latinos are even higher in critical states like Arizona (82 percent) and Nevada (85 percent).

If that doesn’t concentrate the mind, I don’t know what will.

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