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Analysis of the Latino Vote Needs Less ‘Hot Takes’ and More from Those Who Talk Directly to the Community

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As we enter 2024, we can fully expect to be deluged with an onslaught of punditry about the Latino vote. Over the years, we have watched as many paid political prognosticators expressed their uninformed takes on how Latinos will vote and it’s usually dire predictions that Democrats are in trouble. But, it’s not that simple, of course. The Latino population in the United States is not monolithic and like with any constituency, Democrats need to do the work and make serious investments to secure their votes.

When it comes to analysis on Latino voters and the electorate, we should listen to the actual experts who come from those communities and who have a track record in studying their points of view. Experts like Maria Cardona and Matt Barreto, who recently wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times titled, “Are Latino voters really defecting in droves to Republicans? Not according to our data.”

They came with receipts:

A widespread and misleading story about the Latino vote has taken hold in the media. It goes something like this: Latinos used to be monolithic base voters for Democrats, but now they are fracturing and increasingly fleeing to Republicans.

As longtime practitioners of Latino voter outreach, we’re skeptical of this herd narrative, and we have data to support our misgivings.

As they noted, we were told some version of this narrative in 2020 and 2022 in key states like Nevada and Arizona. But, in the end that’s not what happened. In fact, it’s the opposite:

The same myth was propagated in 2022: GOP operatives proclaimed that a majority of Nevada’s Latino electorate would vote Republican and send Adam Laxalt to the U.S. Senate. The actual result was the opposite: Nearly two-thirds of the state’s Latino voters supported Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s reelection and helped Democrats expand their majority in the Senate.

Moreover, a massive recent poll of 3,000 Latino voters by UnidosUS suggests it’s Republicans who are struggling with this demographic:

  • Only 25% of Latinos say they believe that the Republican Party cares a great deal about their community, down from 35% in 2022.
  • Seventy-one percent of Latino voters think abortion should be legal, putting them at odds with Republicans on the issue.
  • Latinos trust Democrats over Republicans on healthcare nearly 4 to 1, not surprisingly given Trump’s determination to undo Obamacare.
  • Across 19 policy issues, including the economy, inflation, small business, healthcare, abortion, gun violence, education, and immigration, Latino voters have more confidence in Democrats by double-digit margins.

One factor that pundits and prognosticators tend to overlook is the backlash that comes from Trump and MAGA-GOP’s dangerous, ugly, and blatant nativism among Latino voters 

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a renewed focus on Trump’s xenophobia, as he has doubled down on that messaging. Headlines like NBC’s Trump sparks Republican backlash after saying immigrants are ‘poisoning the blood’ of the U.S. (where Senator Collins called the remarks “deplorable”) and the New York Times’ headline, Trump Escalates Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric With ‘Poisoning the Blood’ Comment

Axios reported that Trump’s deep dive into Hitler-like language aimed at immigrants poses a threat to a key part of the GOP base: 

Former President Trump’s claim that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” — language echoing the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler — could turn reliably conservative Latino evangelicals against him, a top leader in the faith tells Axios.

One of the leaders of that movement spelled it out:

​​Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., head of the influential National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, tells Axios that Latino evangelicals support border security but will not put up with racism.

“We repudiate all vestiges of bigotry and racism.”

“Any candidate, be Donald Trump or others, who engages in rhetoric that paints the immigrant community with one blanket slate will do so at their peril.”

For years, we have watched as media and pundits bought what Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon have been selling, telling us that anti-immigrant attacks were going to succeed. Our research and tracking of the actual outcomes at the ballot box tell a different story:

  • In 2017, Steve Bannon claimed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s embrace of aggressive nativist dog-whistling would be key to his victory. It wasn’t. He lost by 9 points. Research also found that Gillespie’s xenophobic ads backfired among all groups who saw the ad, including white voters.
  • In 2018, the GOP was fully behind the nativist election strategy. The number of immigration-related TV ads — and the amount of money spent on them — increased fivefold from 2016 to 2018. Wesleyan Media Project found that on Facebook, between August 1 and September 30, 23.3 percent of the Republican ads on the digital platform discussed immigration, while 80 percent of Republican TV ads in the cycle moved their nativist message. The Miller-led strategy of focusing on immigration and migrant caravans backfired on Republicans, who saw Democrats win by the largest midterm margin in American history.
  • In 2019, red-state Republicans lost the gubernatorial mansion in Kentucky and failed to flip the seat in Louisiana after adopting the nativist playbook, making xenophobic fear-mongering a cornerstone of their respective campaigns. 
  • In 2020, Steven Miller told Reuters that Joe Biden’s immigration stance would prove to be “a massive political vulnerability” in the 2020 campaign. Between April and June 2020, the Trump campaign spent more on immigration ads on Facebook than on any other issue and our 2020 ad tracking project and report found that at the presidential level, Trump ran 157 unique ads that employed xenophobic messaging. Yet Biden won 306 electoral college votes and won by more than 7 million votes, while the American public broke ever more sharply in a pro-immigrant direction.
  • In 2022, Republicans made a massive investment into a nativist electoral strategy, while leading Republicans and top GOP strategists and talking heads repeatedly predicted that their nativism would be decisive to their victory. It wasnt’t. America’s Voice ad tracking project found 3,200 different paid communications from Republicans and their allies from this cycle that employed anti-immigrant attacks. Moreover, the continuous escalating rhetoric of demagoguing migrants helped lead to either extreme general election candidates or candidates who took extreme positions. And despite the GOP’s relentless demagoguery about immigrants and the border, voters were still largely pro-immigrant and preferred common-sense reforms heading into the election
  • In 2023, despite national Republicans’ obsession with anti-immigrant attacks, they mostly didn’t focus on the issue in competitive 2023: If Republican candidates, particularly in red states, believed the Stephen Miller strategy of hyper-aggressive nativist attacks was a silver bullet, they would have used it. They didn’t. In New York and New Jersey, where Republicans have been giddily demagoguing the challenges of housing newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers, these attacks largely failed to deliver. Nor could the conditions have likely been any more favorable for a nativist strategy to work, with an increase in arrivals at the border, a Democratic mayor making ugly xenophobic comments about the newly arrived migrants, and constant national media attention to the issue. Yet Republicans were unable to put substantial wins on the board using that strategy and even lost ground in New Jersey. 

All indications point to a GOP that will again double down on their investment into making their strategic nativism a top messaging priority. This may rally the MAGA base and drive some small-dollar donations, but there is scant evidence it will be successful. Their extremism on the issue has veered into conspiratorial white nationalism that inspires deadly racist attacks. That’s the kind of messaging that reminds many Latino voters just how much Trump and his ilk despise them. And the majority of Latino voters will see a Trump campaign seething with bigotry and racism because that’s all Trump has to offer.