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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Majority of Latino voters out of GOP’s reach, new poll shows

Amelia Alonso Tarancon, who emigrated from Cuba 14 years ago, at her home near Fort Lauderdale, Sept. 16, 2022.

By Jennifer Medina, Jazmine Ulloa and Ruth Igielnik

It has been nearly two years since Donald Trump made surprising gains with Hispanic voters. But Republican dreams of a major realignment of Latino voters drawn to GOP stances on crime and social issues have failed to materialize, according to a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College.

The poll — one of the largest nonpartisan surveys of Latino voters since the 2020 election — found that Democrats had maintained a grip on the majority of Latino voters, driven in part by women and the belief that Democrats remained the party of the working class. Overall, Hispanic voters are more likely to agree with Democrats on many issues — immigration, gun policy, climate. They are also more likely to see Republicans as the party of the elite and as holding extreme views. And a majority of Hispanic voters, 56%, plan to vote for Democrats this fall, compared with 32% for Republicans.

But the survey also shows worrying signs for the future of the Democratic message. Despite that comfortable lead, the poll finds Democrats faring far worse than they did in the years before the 2020 election. Younger male Hispanic voters, especially those in the South, appear to be drifting away from the party, a shift that is propelled by deep economic concerns. Weaknesses in the South and among rural voters could stand in the way of crucial wins in Texas and Florida in this year’s midterms.

Anthony Saiz, 24, who reviews content for a social media platform in Tucson, Arizona, said he had to take on a second job baking pizzas at a beer garden to make ends meet. Saiz voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and considers himself a Democrat because he grew up in a Democratic household. But under Biden, he said, the cost of living seemed to have doubled for him even as he moved into a smaller apartment.

“The choices he has been making for the country have been putting me in a bad spot,” he said of the president.

How Latinos will vote is a crucial question in the November elections and for the future of American politics. Hispanic voters are playing a pivotal role in the battle over control of Congress, making up a significant slice of voters — as high as 20% — in two of the states likeliest to determine control of the Senate, Arizona and Nevada. Latinos also make up more than 20% of registered voters in more than a dozen highly competitive House races in California, Colorado, Florida and Texas, among other states.

Democrats have long assumed that the growing Latino electorate would doom Republicans, and the prospect of an increasingly diverse electorate has fueled anxieties among conservatives. The 2020 election results — in which Trump gained an estimated 8 percentage points among Hispanic voters compared with 2016 — began changing both parties’ outlooks. The Times/Siena poll shows that historic allegiances and beliefs on core issues remain entrenched, although some shifts are striking.

Although majorities of Hispanic voters side with Democrats on social and cultural issues, sizable shares hold beliefs aligned with Republicans: More than one-third of Hispanic voters say they agree more with the GOP on crime and policing, and 4 in 10 Hispanic voters have concerns that the Democratic Party has gone too far on race and gender. Hispanic voters view economic issues as the most important factor determining their vote this year and are evenly split on which party they agree with more on the economy.

Hispanic voters in America have never been a unified voting bloc and have frequently puzzled political strategists who try to understand their behavior. The 32 million Latinos eligible to vote are recent immigrants and fourth-generation citizens, city dwellers and rural ranchers, Catholics and atheists.

Republicans are performing best with Hispanic voters who live in the South, a region that includes Florida and Texas, where Republicans have notched significant wins with Latino voters in recent elections. In the South, 46% of Latino voters say they plan to vote for Democrats, while 45% say they plan to vote for Republicans. By contrast, Democrats lead 62% to 24% among Hispanic voters in other parts of the country.

A generation gap could also lead to more Republican gains. Democrats, the poll found, were benefiting from particularly high support among older Latino voters. But 46% of voters younger than 30 favor Republicans’ handling of the economy, compared with 43% who favor Democrats.

Republicans also have strength among Latino men, who favor Democrats in the midterm election but who say, by a 5-point margin, that they would vote for Trump if he were to run again in 2024. Young men in particular appear to be shifting toward Republicans. They are a key vulnerability for Democrats, who maintain just a 4-point edge in the midterms among men younger than 45.

Immigration remains a key issue for Hispanic voters, and both parties have a particular appeal. While Democrats have pushed for overhauling the legal immigration system and providing a path to citizenship for many immigrants living in the country illegally, Republicans have focused on cracking down on illegal immigration and using border politics to galvanize their base.

Democrats maintain a significant advantage on the issue of legal immigration, with 55% of Hispanic voters saying they agree with the party, compared with 29% who say they agree with Republicans. But the GOP has made inroads as it has stepped up anti-immigration rhetoric and policy: 37% of Latino voters favor Republicans’ views on illegal immigration. And roughly one-third support a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Amelia Alonso Tarancon, 69, who emigrated from Cuba 14 years ago and now lives outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wants Congress to offer legal status to workers living in the country illegally who have been in the country for decades. But she agrees with Republicans on their hard-line views against illegal immigration. The issue motivated her to vote for Trump, although she is a registered Democrat.

On many social and cultural issues, Hispanic voters remain aligned with the Democratic Party.

The majority, 58%, have a favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement, while 45% say the same about the Blue Lives Matter movement, which defends law enforcement personnel. A majority believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases; even among Republican Hispanics, 4 in 10 oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Support for Black Lives Matter and abortion rights is propelled largely by young people. Asked whom they agreed with more on gun policy, 49% said Democrats, while 34% said Republicans.

Republicans attempting to court Latino voters have repeatedly painted Democrats as elitist and out of touch, but the poll suggests that the strategy is having limited success.

Nearly 6 in 10 Hispanic voters continue to see the Democrats as the party of the working class. Although white Republicans uniformly see themselves as the working-class party, even some Hispanic Republicans believe that mantle belongs to Democrats. And there was no evidence in the poll that Republicans were performing any better among non-college-educated Latinos or among Hispanics who lived in rural areas, two key demographic groups they have focused on for outreach. One in 4 Hispanic voters in rural areas remain undecided about whom they will vote for in November.

Democrats have been roundly criticized for their embrace of the term Latinx, which is meant to be more inclusive than the gendered words Latino and Latina. Previous surveys have shown only a small minority of Hispanic voters prefer the term. But the poll suggests that Latinx is hardly the most polarizing issue; just 18% said they found the term offensive.

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