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Hispanic Voters Are Normie Voters
Time for Woke Democrats to Wake Up
Democrats are having a great deal of trouble holding on to Hispanic voters. In 2020, running against Donald Trump for a second time, in the midst of a COVID/economic crisis and after the George Floyd summer of “racial reckoning”, Democrat Joe Biden actually did quite a bit worse among Hispanic voters than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. According to authoritative estimates from Democratic big data firm Catalist, the Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters slipped by a remarkable 16 points (two party vote) between the two elections. That doesn’t mean the Democrats lost the Hispanic vote. Far from it—they still got a solid majority of that group’s vote. But the size of their majority was whittled down considerably and appears to be falling further.
The seriousness of this problem tends to be underestimated in Democratic circles for a couple of reasons: (1) they don’t realize how big the shift has been; and (2) they don’t realize how thoroughly it undermines the most influential Democratic theory of the case for building their coalition.
On the latter, consider that most Democrats like to believe that, since a relatively conservative white, especially white working class, population is in sharp decline while a presumably liberal nonwhite population keeps growing, the course of social and demographic change should deliver an ever-growing Democratic coalition (the “rising American electorate”). It is simply a matter of getting this burgeoning nonwhite population to the polls.
But consider further that, as the Census documents, the biggest single driver of the increased nonwhite population is the growth of the Hispanic population. They are by far the largest group within the Census-designated nonwhite population (19 percent vs. 12 percent for blacks). While their representation among voters considerably lags their representation in the overall population, it is fair to say that voting trends among this group will decisively shape voting trends among nonwhites in the future since their share of voters will continue to increase while black voter share is expected to remain roughly constant.
It therefore follows that, if Hispanic voting trends continue to move steadily against the Democrats, the pro-Democratic effect of nonwhite population growth will be blunted, if not cancelled out entirely. Exactly that happened in 2020. This radically undermines the Democrats’ rising American electorate theory of the case.
Digging deeper reveals even more problems for the Democrats. Their slippage among Hispanic voters in 2020 was all over the country and among all the different ethnicities lumped under the Hispanic label. The biggest damage was among Cuban Hispanics (a 26 point decline in Democratic margin) and in Florida (down 28 points), but the damage went far beyond that. The Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters declined 18 points in Texas and Wisconsin, 16 points in Nevada, 12 points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Arizona. And among Hispanic ethnicities, the Democratic margin was down 18 points among Puerto Ricans, 16 points among Dominicans, 12 points among Mexicans and 18 points among other Hispanic ethnicities.
Neighborhood and precinct-level analysis of the 2020 election by the New York Times and Equis Research confirm the extensive nature of these shifts, showing up in Latino-heavy neighborhoods from New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles to Houston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Data sources also agree that these shifts were primarily driven by working class (noncollege) Hispanics who make up the overwhelming majority of the Hispanic population.
Democratic fortunes among Hispanic voters have not improved since then.. Two recent polls, New York Times/Sienna and Quinnipiac, have the generic Congressional ballot for 2022 almost tied among Hispanics—a scant three point lead for Democrats in the former and a 2 point Republican lead in the latter. Biden’s Hispanic approval ratings in the two polls are, respectively, 32 percent and a stunningly low 19 percent. Other polls have Democrats doing somewhat better among Hispanics, but still running far behind traditional Democratic margins on the Congressional ballot (they carried Hispanics by 35 points in 2018, according to Catalist).
This is a very problematic trend for Democrats, who had counted on the burgeoning Hispanic population, as with other nonwhites, to be a bulwark of their coalition, insulating them from the negative effects of declining white working class support, a group that many in the party had essentially written off. “There’s always been something problematic about the Democratic Party’s fixation on white working-class voters,” wrote Sally Kohn, CEO of the Movement Vision Lab “..[I]t’s clear that obsession isn’t just fraught with bias. It’s also dumb.”
Steve Phillips, author of Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, argues: “Democrats are so obsessed with wooing conservative white working-class voters that they fail to see the ever-increasing ranks of people of color who can strengthen their political hand.”
Julian Castro, a 2020 candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, expects the rising Hispanic vote to deliver Texas, Arizona and Florida to the Democrats—“A big blue wall of 78 electoral votes.”
But it’s not that simple, as the election results from 2020 demonstrate. In retrospect, it seems clear that Democrats, in fact, seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with “people of color” and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. In reality, Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly an upwardly mobile, patriotic population with practical and down to earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, effective schools and public safety.
In short, they are normie voters, not at all a liberal voting bloc, especially on social issues, that just needs to be mobilized. This is not true about Hispanics in general and is very far from the truth among working class Hispanics, three-quarters or more of Hispanic voters. In Pew’s post-election validated voter survey, just 20 percent of these voters described themselves as liberal, while 45 percent said they were moderate and 35 percent said they were conservative.
Just how normie and not super-progressive Hispanics are as a group is well-illustrated by recent data from Echelon Insights. Take the issue of structural racism. Echelon asked respondents to choose between two statements: Racism is built into our society, including into its policies and institutions vs. Racism comes from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions.
Of course in progressive sectors of the Democratic party, which do so much to define the party’s national brand, it is an article of faith that the first statement is the correct one. Indeed, in Echelon’s “strong progressive” group—roughly 10 percent of voters—they are so very, very sure of America’s systemic racism that they endorse the first statement by an amazing 94-6 margin. But Hispanic voters disagree, endorsing the second statement that racism comes from individuals by 58-36.
That’s quite a difference. Clearly, this constituency, unlike Democratic progressives, does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy.
Or consider patriotism. The Echelon survey posed this choice to respondents: America is not the greatest country in the world vs. America is the greatest country in the world. By 66 percent to 28 percent, strong progressives say America is not the greatest country in the world. By 70-23, Hispanic voters say the reverse.
There are many other examples of Hispanics’ patriotic proclivities. By well over 3:1 in the post-election wave of the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group panel survey, Hispanics 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. In 2018 data collected by the More in Common group, Hispanics overwhelmingly (76 percent) said they were “proud to be American”. In contrast, a group the study labelled “progressive activists” (analogous in size and outlook to Echelon’s strong progressives) were loath to express these sentiments: just 34 percent of this group said they were proud to be American.
The typical Hispanic voter would stand instead with President Bill Clinton when he said: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America”. And with Barack Obama who said when he won the Presidency in 2008:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
Then there is the commitment to, and belief in, upward mobility. The Echelon survey posed this choice: Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people vs. Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they're willing to work hard. Strong progressives don’t evidence much faith in upper mobility, endorsing the first statement on the questionable efficacy of hard work by 88-12. Hispanic voters, on the other hand, embrace the view that hard-working people are likely to get ahead by 55-39.
But they certainly don’t feel like they’re getting ahead right now. In tracking data collected by the Civiqs polling firm, just 12 percent of Hispanic working class voters say their family financial situation has gotten better in the last year, compared to 50 percent who say it’s gotten worse and 36 percent who say it’s remained the same. Given that Hispanics are far more likely to cite inflation and the economy than any others as the top issues for 2022, that makes it clearer why Hispanic support for Democrats is so weak, despite the party’s strenuous efforts to focus voter attention on abortion rights, gun control and the January 6th hearings.
But there is one group among whom these efforts appear to be working: college-educated whites. These issues loom large for these voters and they are less likely to be influenced by current economic problems. So we have results like the recent New York Times-Sienna poll, where Democrats have a 21 point lead in the generic Congressional ballot among these voters, despite being essentially tied among Hispanics.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democrats’ emphasis on social and democracy issues, while catnip to some socially liberal, educated voters, leaves many Hispanic voters cold. Their concerns are more mundane and economically-driven. This is despite the fact that many of these voters are in favor of moderate abortion rights and gun control and disapprove of the January 6th events. But these issues are just not salient for them in the way they are for the Democrats’ educated and most fervent supporters.
In short, they are normie voters.
Note: This is an expanded version of an essay that originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.