Politics /

OPINION: Democrats Are Losing Latino Voters

Speaking in San Antonio at a UnidosUS conference (formerly National Council of La Raza founded by Raul Yzaguirre in 1968) on July 11, 2022, First Lady Jill Biden exclaimed the following:

“Raul helped build this organization with the understanding that the diversity of this community, as distinct as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the blossoms of Miami and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio, is your strength”.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) was not amused, and responded with a Twitter post that included these statements:

“Using breakfast tacos to try to demonstrate the uniqueness of Latinos in San Antonio demonstrates a lack of cultural knowledge and sensitivity to the diversity of Latinos in the region”.

Later the NAHJ’s graphic read “We are not tacos” and “Our heritage as Latinos is shaped by a variety of diasporas, cultures, and food traditions, and should not be reduced to a stereotype.”

The First Lady’s failed pandering epitomizes the Biden administration’s lack of appeal to Latino voters. Multiple polls show a majority of Latinos disapprove of the Biden administration with the most recent poll indicating that 63 percent of Latinos either somewhat or strongly disapprove of Biden. For a variety of reasons, Democrats in Washington, D.C. never fully understood Latino voters, pigeonholing them as only caring about immigration. Education and the economy have historically been important to Latinos, including Americans of Mexican descent. Issues such as energy, crime, the economy, and education are likely to be major factors in a Latino voter — and overall voter — shift among the American people to the GOP. 

The Mexican-American community in the United States comprises a majority of Latinos, consisting of roughly 62 percent of all Latinos according to a 2019 survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. Recently elected Congresswoman Mayra Flores of Texas joins a handful of Mexican-American Republicans in the current U.S. House: Brian Mast of Florida, Mike Garcia of California, Tony Gonzales of Texas, and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington. The corporate press disparaged Congresswoman Flores for being a successful Mexican American conservative Republican woman. Her feat of flipping a South Texas Congressional seat for the first time in over a century surely sends a shiver down the spine of every Beltway establishment figure. Hence claims from pundits like Raul Reyes who claim Flores isn’t the “real deal” or MSNBC’s Julio Ricardo Varela who chastised Republicans for criticizing Biden. Flores’ authenticity as a self-made Mexican immigrant contrasts with an Irish-American political scion, former Democratic Congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke.

Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in particular has seen a growing Republican trend, which may foreshadow an overall Republican trend in border communities. Take the California Assembly district (the 36th) containing Imperial County situated on the border. The 2022 primary saw the Republican candidate outperform past Republican margins in 2016, 2018, and 2020 (in the old 56th district). 

The border crisis that has unfolded under the Biden administration has reinforced support for the previous administration’s Title 42 policy turning away asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. An Axios-Ipsos poll taken last month indicates that a majority of Latino participants in the poll support keeping the policy. A closer examination of the polling data reveals that 52 percent of Mexican Americans, 57 percent of Puerto Rican Americans, and 53 percent of Cuban Americans all support the policy. The poll also found that inflation, crime and gun violence ranked above immigration as top issues for the Latino community.

The erstwhile “Emerging Democratic Majority” theory that became the dominant mode of thinking for the past two decades was developed by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira and then adapted by James Carville. The theory suggested that demographic change as the result of the growing Latino population in the United States would yield a Democratic electoral advantage. “Demographics is destiny,” a phrase that hearkens back to a 1970 book titled The Real Majority, became a mantra for liberal commentators, Democratic campaign strategists, and even influenced presidents like Barack Obama. Pundits nationwide referred to the Republican Party as reaching “irrelevance” due to its supposed over-reliance on a shrinking Anglo voter base. Latino voters becoming staunch liberal Democrats was expected to be a foregone conclusion.

As early as 2011, prominent election forecasters such as Nate Silver indicated that “Demographics Is Not Destiny,” and its flaws began to show in subsequent elections. Latinos were erroneously thought of as a liberal or left-wing voting bloc of single-issue voters that only cared about immigration. What Teixeira didn’t count on was the rise of wokeness in the Democratic Party, its obsession with gender identity, racial essentialism, and opposition to energy production. Even in California, Latino (and African-American) groups have criticized the Golden State’s municipal bans on natural gas. Teixeira has been warning about the Democrats’ growing challenges frequently in his Substack The Liberal Patriot.

Mexican-Americans aren’t the only Latino voters shifting to the Republican Party. Virginia, a state with a 10.5 percent Latino population according to the census, is home to a variety of Latino communities, including a growing Salvadoran American community, and the largest Bolivian American population in the U.S. among many different groups of Latinos in the state. Virginia’s current Governor, Glenn Youngkin, ran a campaign centered on the economy and education. As a result, he won Latino voters by 12 points — another nail in the coffin of the “Emerging Democratic Majority” theory. 

The Biden administration’s mishandling of the economy, inflation, energy, and education is damaging its credibility with voters of all backgrounds — notably with Latino voters. A handful of upcoming results could be indicators of a red shift among Latinos — particularly but not exclusive to Latinos in areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. The events of the past few years and Latino perspectives on the issues relevant to 2022 portends that Latino voters will contribute to a very different, more conservative leaning coalition. Demographic change may turn out to have an impact on Democratic and Republican prospects — just not in the way conventional wisdom expected. 

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