Joe Biden won 65% of the Hispanic vote in the last presidential election. He campaigned on defending the working class and fixing the U.S. immigration system. Two years into his presidency, he has so far failed to do so, and Hispanic voters are increasingly deserting the Democratic Party. With the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, this Washington Examiner series, Taken For Granted, will look at how Biden and Democratic Party policies are failing to connect with the Latino electorate, how Donald Trump and Republicans have benefited, and how it could swing the November midterm elections.
Former President Donald Trump was supposed to be the death knell for the Republican Party and the Hispanic vote, helping to usher in the “emerging Democratic majority” forecasters had projected for decades.
Instead, Trump made modest inroads with Hispanics himself and may have presided over the demographic shifting from a reliably Democratic voting bloc to more of a swing vote.
If those trends hold through this year’s midterm elections, it could have lasting implications for the competitiveness of future races.
BIDEN AND DEMOCRATS LOSING GRIP ON HISPANIC VOTERS
In 2020, Trump won the highest share of the Hispanic vote of any Republican presidential nominee since George W. Bush in 2004. Like Ronald Reagan in 1984, incumbent GOP presidents seeking a second term have tended to do best with this bloc.
But Bush was reelected. Reagan won in a 49-state landslide, receiving 59% of the overall national popular vote. Trump improved to 35%, up 14 points from Mitt Romney in 2012, even as he lost the presidency.
Trump won 41% of the Hispanic vote in Texas and 46% in Florida, where he carried Cuban Americans. While the non-Hispanic white vote (62% for Trump in Florida, 66% in Texas) was decisive, this showing helped him keep both big states in the Republican column that November despite the Democrats’ best hopes.
That year, the Hispanic swing to the GOP was more dramatic in some key swing areas. Both South Texas and South Florida, for instance, saw double-digit increases in Republican support, including as much as 20 points in parts of Miami-Dade County and over 10 in the Rio Grande Valley.
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“One important thing to know about the decline in Hispanic support for Democrats is that it was pretty broad,” top Democratic data guru David Shor told New York magazine after the election. “This isn’t just about Cubans in South Florida. It happened in New York and California and Arizona and Texas.”
Things could get even worse for Democrats in November. A Wall Street Journal poll earlier this year found the two parties tied among Hispanics in the generic ballot. The Democratic share of the Hispanic vote fell from more than 60% in 2020 to just 37%, with Republicans also taking 37%, while another 22% were undecided.
Fifty-four percent of Hispanics disapproved of the job Joe Biden was doing as president, compared to just 42% who approved. Among Hispanic men, disapproval stood at 61% compared to 38% approval.
In a hypothetical presidential rematch, Hispanic voters were nearly tied again. Biden took just 44% of the Hispanic vote to Trump’s 43%. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 7.6 percentage points. Hispanic men voted for Trump by 23 points, giving him 56%. A pronounced gender gap, with Hispanic women breaking 55% to 30% for Biden, kept it close. Still, 63% of Hispanic respondents overall said the economy was headed in the wrong direction to 25% who thought it was going in the right one.
Trump was supposed to be incompatible with GOP gains among Hispanics. He was widely viewed as hostile to immigrants in general and Latinos in particular. He spoke of rapists coming across the border from Mexico and pledged to build a wall to stop them, at Mexico’s expense. Even his attempts at outreach to this demographic were off-key, such as posing with a taco salad under the caption “I love Hispanics!” He defeated two rising Hispanic Republican stars, Sens. Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL), to win the nomination in 2016.
Many thought Trump would do to the Republican share of the Hispanic vote what Barry Goldwater did to the GOP in the black community. One of only six Republican senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Goldwater was the party’s presidential nominee that year. Republicans went from winning 32% of the black vote in 1960 to just 6% four years later and never made it out of the teens again.
“It did define our party, for at least African American voters, and it still does today. That was a complete shift that occurred that year, and we’ve never been able to get them back,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in 2016. “So, I think it was a defining moment for Republicans with regard to the accomplishments that we had made for African Americans going back to the Civil War.” When asked if he worried Trump might do similar lasting damage with Hispanics, he replied, “I do.”
But some of what white working-class voters found attractive about Trump, working-class Hispanics did too. Democrats overstated how important immigration was to these voters and how liberal they were on the issue.
“Hispanic voters oppose illegal immigration very strongly, and they are generally in favor of low legal immigration, too,” said Jim Robb, referencing the Rasmussen polling in his new book, Political Migrants: Hispanic Voters on the Move.
These trends were accelerated when Hispanics were repelled by COVID-19 lockdowns, which imperiled their livelihoods. These voters also disliked the “defund the police” movement, wanting more law enforcement resources for their communities, and the far Left’s embrace of socialism, having in many cases emigrated from socialist countries.
This opens up the possibility for the GOP to become a multiracial working-class party. “Roughly the same proportion of African American, Hispanic, and white voters identify as conservative,” Shor told New York. “But white voters are polarized on ideology, while nonwhite voters haven’t been. Something like 80% of white conservatives vote for Republicans. … What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates; they started voting more like white conservatives.”
“The shift among Hispanic men was clear, and it seems they were attracted to the strong leadership that President Trump offered,” Republican pollster Neil Newhouse previously told the Washington Examiner. “That movement sped up in the ’20 cycle as part of the national debate revolved around the Democrats’ lurch toward socialistic policies.”
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There is no guarantee that these trends will continue, of course. In 2020, gains with Hispanics were more than offset by Republican losses with suburban voters, which have persisted amid crime and economic adversity.
But instead of building a wall between the GOP and Hispanic voters, the Trump era left Republicans with an opportunity to grow.