The Democrats’ Hispanic Voter Problem: More Evidence from the 2020 Pew Validated Voter Survey

It’s a Sobering Picture

Joe Biden in 2020 characterized Donald Trump as, among other things, an unapologetic racist who particularly detested immigrants. This strand of Biden’s campaign was supposed to have special appeal to Hispanics and juice their Democratic support.

But that didn’t happen. Instead Hispanic voters went in the other direction, giving Trump after four years substantially more support than they did in 2016. According to Catalist, in 2020 Latinos had an amazingly large 16 point margin shift toward Trump. Among Latinos, Cubans did have the largest shifts toward Trump (26 points), but those of Mexican origin also had a 12 point shift and even Puerto Ricans moved toward Trump by 18 points. Moreover, Latino shifts toward Trump were widely dispersed geographically. Hispanic shifts toward Trump were not confined to Florida (28 points) and Texas (18 points) but also included states like Nevada (16 points), Pennsylvania (12 points), Arizona (10 points) and Georgia (8 points).

The national Pew 2020 validated voter data were consistent with Catalist national data on the size of the shift toward Trump, as revealed by Pew’s recent report on these data. Now Pew has released the microdata from their survey allowing researchers to dig into their data to get more detail on Hispanics and other groups. Here are some of the things I found from looking at the Hispanic validated voter data.

1. Trump’s support was higher among Hispanic working class (noncollege) voters than among the college-educated. Biden carried Hispanic college voters by a whopping 39 points (69-30) compared to just 14 points (55-41) among the Hispanic working class.

2. Hispanic Trump voters were 81 percent working class and just 19 percent college-educated.

3. Within the working class, the less education Hispanic voters had, the more they supported Trump. Those with some college gave Trump 39 percent of their vote, high school graduates gave him 42 percent and high school dropouts gave him 53 percent.

4. Pew breaks income into three broad groups: lower income, middle income and upper income. Trump’s worst group by far here was upper income Hispanics where he received just 28 percent of the vote. But he got 41 percent support among middle income Hispanics and 40 percent support among lower income Hispanics.

5. Just under a third of Hispanic voters described themselves as conservative. These voters supported Trump by a lopsided 73-26.

6. Over half of Hispanic voters (53 percent) were very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to make good decisions about economic policy. Those who were very confident supported Trump 77-18; those who were somewhat confident supported him 56-40.

7. Trump support was highest among young Hispanic voters. Those under 30 gave him 41 percent support, those in the 30-49 year old age group gave him 38 percent; those 50-64 gave him 37 percent and those 65 and over the least at 35 percent.

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What lies behind these unsatisfying results for the Democrats? One possibility, as I have previously argued, is that Democrats fundamentally misunderstood the nature of this voter group and what they really care about. Hispanics were lumped in with “people of color” and were assumed to embrace the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares above all, about jobs, the economy and health care.

For example, in the post-election wave of the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group (VSG) panel survey, well over 70 percent of Hispanic voters rated jobs, the economy, health care and the coronavirus as issues that were “very important” to them. No other issues even came close to this level. Crime as an issue rated higher with these voters than immigration or racial equality, two issues that Democrats assumed would clear the path to big gains among Hispanic voters.

In this context, it is interesting to note that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement did not rate very highly among Hispanics. In the national exit poll, Hispanic voters were split close to evenly about BLM, 47 percent unfavorable to 49 percent favorable. This significantly trails not just black voters, but also white college graduates, who rated BLM 61 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable.

Consistent with this, Latino voters evinced little sympathy with the more radical demands that came to be associated with BLM. In VSG data, despite showing support for some specific policing reforms, Hispanics opposed defunding the police, decreasing the size of police forces and the scope of their work and reparations for the descendants of slaves by 2:1 or more.

An important thing to remember about the Hispanic population is that they are heavily oriented toward upward mobility and see themselves as being able to benefit from available opportunities to attain that. Three-fifths of Latinos in the national exit poll said they believed life would be better for the next generation of Americans. In the VSG data, these voters agreed, by 9 points, that racial minorities have mostly fair opportunities to advance in America, by 11 points agreed that America is a fair society where everyone has a chance to get ahead and by 20 points agreed that “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

They are also patriotic. By well over 3:1, Hispanics in the VSG survey said they would rather be a citizen of the United States than any other country in the world and by 35 points said they were proud of the way American democracy works. Clearly, this constituency does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy.

It is probable that Democrats will continue to have problems with this voter group until they base their appeals to this group on what these voters care about the most rather than what Democrats believe they should care about.

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