By Bill Wilson
The Hispanic vote is in flux, with the 2022 midterms delivering mixed results for both parties. On the one hand, Republicans fell short of lofty goals in Arizona and South Texas, where immigration dominated the political narrative last fall.
On the other hand, Hispanics voted in Historic margins for Republicans in Florida, and moved to the right by ten percentage points nationwide compared to 2018.
In the Florida Governor’s race, Hispanics shifted to the right by fourteen percentage points between 2018 and 2022. In the 2018 midterms, Democratic nominee for Governor Andrew Gillum won Hispanics 54% to Ron DeSantis’ 44%, but last year DeSantis earned a whopping 58% of the Hispanic vote to Charlie Crist’s 40%.
While Democrats have trumpeted the GOP’s perceived failures with the Latino vote in Arizona and Texas, the reality is Republicans did move the needle in these states, just not by as much as they could have.
In Arizona, GOP newcomer gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake increased her share of the Latino vote by three percentage points more than Gov. Doug Ducey in 2018.
So, what happened in Texas? Republicans set an aggressive goal, targeting three congressional seats in South Texas with a heavy law-enforcement message, and losing all but one. Still, Democrats saw their margins shrink compared to past elections. In the 34th Congressional District, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez beat Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican, by just eight points. In the largest county in the district, Cameron County, Gonzalez won by only 3.6 points, while four years ago Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela won the region by 30 points.
However, with lofty goals and millions of dollars in funding poured into the region, it’s worth asking what Republicans could have done better. One implication is a mismatch in priorities, with illegal immigration dominating campaign messages but remaining less important to Latinos than economic issues.
The three Republican Latina candidates in South Texas made illegal immigration the focal point of their campaigns. All three candidates — Irene Armendariz-Jackson, Cassy Garcia and Rep. Mayra Flores — are women who are married to Border Patrol agents. All three spoke frequently about illegal immigration and law enforcement issues, and gave less lip service to other concerns, namely economic issues.
While this law enforcement message was especially salient in border states, polling shows economic issues were the top concerns for Latinos leading up to the 2022 election and remain primary concerns today. Education, health care, and election integrity all trump immigration concerns for Latino Republicans, and it is Latino Democrats who are more concerned with immigration according to polls.
Pew Research conducted polling ahead of the midterms last year and showed the economy was the number one issue for Latin citizens by far. A full ninety percent of Latino Republicans cited the economy as very important to their midterm vote, followed by education (66%), voting policies (58%) and healthcare (54%). For Latino Democrats, 80% said healthcare was very important to their midterm vote, followed by the economy (75%), and education (72%). Notably, immigration was a more motivating issue to Latino Democrats than it was to Republicans. Two-thirds of Latino Democrats said immigration was very important to their vote, compared to just half of Republicans.
Two-thirds of Latino Democrats said immigration was very important to their vote, compared to just half of Republicans.
By making illegal immigration a central issue, Republican candidates neglected to address the primary concern among right-leaning Hispanics: their pocketbooks. Latinos largely trust the GOP over Democrats to handle economic issues, which means the economy is a natural area to focus to continue making inroads.
Education also outranks immigration when it comes to Latino Republican priorities, and this is another opportunity for Republicans to earn Latino votes. YouGov polling shows Latinos hold moderate to conservative views on education and are wary of the state’s role in education, saying 48% to 35% state boards of education should have a little influence over curriculum. Even fewer say the state legislature should have much control over curriculum, with Latinos saying 24% to 44% the legislature should have little control.
The same poll shows Hispanics think teachers and parents should retain the most control over curriculum, with 42% saying parents should have a lot of control over curriculum, and 44% saying teachers should.
Education is not frequently seen as a ‘Latino issue’, but it is an important issue when choosing which candidate to support to over two-thirds of Latino voters. The GOP cannot afford to ignore this issue.
Education is not frequently seen as a ‘Latino issue’, but it is an important issue when choosing which candidate to support to over two-thirds of Latino voters.
Voting policies are another issue that trumps immigration for Latinos, with 58% of Latino republicans citing voting policies as important to their midterm vote.
This is also an issue where Latinos largely align with the Republican Party. Polling shows Democrats’ attempt to weaken voter ID laws could be a wedge issue for Hispanics. YouGov found 64% of Hispanics support a voter ID requirement, compared to 23% who oppose such a requirement. What is more, less than a third of Hispanics would support ‘universal voting’.
Hispanics are also extremely critical of the outcome of the 2020 election. One poll early after Biden’s inauguration found 23% of Hispanics do not believe Biden won the presidency, and less than half (43%) were excited about Biden taking office.
Another poll found by a margin of 43% to 41% Hispanics believe either a lot or a little voter fraud occurred in the 2020 election. The same poll found 32% of Hispanics supported the protestors who entered the capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the Electoral College on January 6th.
Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government stated, “The reality is illegal immigration is a pressing issue, especially near the border, but it was dwarfed by concerns about skyrocketing inflation, runaway school boards and voter fraud. If these issues had made more of a priority, it’s possible the scales would have tipped even further for conservatives.”
Latinos are increasingly concerned about economic issues, and largely blame President Biden for their financial struggles. Biden’s polling numbers have sunk nearly twenty percentage points with Latinos since he took office. Meanwhile Trump’s favorability with Latinos has steadily risen and now sits sixteen percentage points higher than when he left office.
Trump’s favorability with Latinos has steadily risen and now sits sixteen percentage points higher than when he left office.
YouGov polls show Latinos say 51% to 35% the country is off on the wrong track, and over half say the economy is in a recession and that inflation has personally impacted them a lot. Hispanics also say by a three to one margin that inflation is a bigger issue than unemployment, something President Biden downplayed at his State of The Union Speech when trumpeting low unemployment numbers.
To solve these economic woes, many Latinos are looking back on the Trump presidency with fond memories. The share of Latinos who say Trump should run again is up 14 points since he left office going from 22% in January 2021 to 36% today. Hispanics are also largely sour on Biden running again, with just 28% saying he should run and a full 50% saying he should not.
Trump is easily the first choice with Latinos for the GOP nominee, with 21% saying he is the best choice followed by DeSantis (16%) and Nikki Haley (10%).
President Trump instigated a Latino shift back toward the right in 2016 and escalated that shift in 2020, but it was largely Trump’s focus on economic issues that motivated Latinos, not necessarily his immigration rhetoric. This isn’t to downplay the significance of the border crisis – but to place it in context. Like many other center-right voters, economic issues are the primary motivators for Latino voters, especially those who lean right. As is becoming evident among other segments of the voting population, the economic polices of America First – a more populist agenda than the traditional GOP “free market” dogma – has the greatest pull. As Biden himself showed with his State of the Union address, economic populism will determine the outcome of upcoming elections. And, if implemented, the future prosperity of the United States.
Bill Wilson is the former president of Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation.