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Of all the 2020 hangovers, perhaps none is as befuddling to Democrats as the party’s eroding support among Latino voters.
And Democrats have plenty of reason to worry: For years, they have relied on Latinos as a crucial part of a winning coalition and held fast to the belief that the coalition would only grow along with new voters. Former President Donald J. Trump’s policies and rhetorical attacks on immigrants, many Democrats reasoned, would drive Hispanic voters to their party like no other candidate could.
But Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign blew that theory out of the water: Hispanic support for him actually increased in 2020, particularly — but not only — in South Florida and South Texas. And two new reports this week show why Democrats should be worried.
The first, by Equis Research, a Democratic-leaning group that focuses on Latinos, relies on polls and focus groups conducted over the year since the election. It found that the economy became the top issue for Latinos all over the country, replacing immigration for many voters.
The report also found that fears of Democrats embracing socialist policies drove a large number of voters toward Mr. Trump, and that those fears persist even among Democratic voters.
And in new polling by Way to Win, a Democratic-aligned group, the economy was seen as the most important issue among Latino voters. More alarming for Democrats though, is that half of all Hispanic voters polled in four key states said that they believed the country was going in the wrong direction.
The poll surveyed 1,000 Latino voters in Texas, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona last month in both English and Spanish, and found that 58 percent of independent voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. Still, 60 percent of all Latino voters surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of President Biden and the Democratic Party.
But that level of support won’t be enough to hold on to the House or Senate in the midterms, said Tory Gavito, the president of Way to Win.
“To win next November, we need to have Latinos at the 70 mark for Democrats, so we’ve got to move for these folks,” Ms. Gavito said in an interview. “Right now we see the support, but it’s soft.”
Kristian Ramos, the campaign manager for Way to Win’s midterm message research project, said: “We could easily lose them to the couch. This administration has done 10 times more on Covid, has done miraculous work on the economy, but Latinos have no idea. And the economic anxiety in this group is off the charts.”
Half of those polled by Way to Win said that they trusted the Democratic Party more on the issues of jobs and the economy, while 54 percent said they approved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy. Among those who have an unfavorable view of the party, 22 percent say it is too liberal or socialist, according to the poll.
Yet the majority of those surveyed said they wished that Mr. Biden could have enacted more change than he has so far, which pollsters tied to “deep anxiety about the economy.”
“They don’t really care ideologically, as long as someone is speaking to those pain points,” Mr. Ramos said.
The Equis report found that Latinos who may have been otherwise inclined to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 withheld their support in that campaign because of his hard-line stance on immigration and the “importance of the Hispanic identity.” But by the middle of 2020, neither of those issues clearly differentiated Trump supporters and Democratic voters. Instead, the impact of the pandemic appeared to drive a larger number of voters, and the Trump administration’s approach to reopening the economy was embraced by a majority of them.
The Equis research found that Democrats are losing ground to Republicans on issues relating to the economy. Asked which party they find more accurately described as valuing hard work, better for the American workers and the party of the American dream, Latino voters were roughly evenly divided.
“The challenge is that 2020 hasn’t ended, the same dynamics haven’t ended,” said Carlos Odio, the co-founder of Equis. If there is a moral to the story, Mr. Odio added, it is that less partisan Latinos moved toward the candidate they trusted more on their top issue. “So competing for the vote can pay off.”
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