The Democratic Party’s early 2000s dream of an emerging majority based on a diversifying electorate has run into reality. Democrats lost the 2016 presidential election, and they barely won in 2020. Part of their problem was declining support among White voters.
But the 2020 election also pointed to another problem: Hispanic voters (who are growing as a portion of the electorate) moving toward the Republican Party. Recent polling – and now this week’s Texas primaries – show that these Republican gains don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
Texas is a heavily Hispanic state relative to the country as a whole. There are 16 counties in Texas where Hispanics make up at least 80% of the citizen voting age population, according to the latest data available from Census Bureau. The county with the highest percentage of Hispanic adult citizens (Starr County) backed now-President Joe Biden by 5 points in 2020, after voting for Hillary Clinton by 60 points four years earlier. (That’s not a misprint. It really was a 55-point swing.)
Regularly scheduled primaries, of course, don’t feature a Democratic candidate versus a Republican candidate. We can, however, look at the relative turnout between the Democratic and Republican primaries. This is instructive in Texas where voters don’t register by party and can choose which party’s primary to vote in.
All told, 27% of the Texans who voted Tuesday in the 16 most Hispanic counties cast a ballot in the Republican primary. This may not seem like a lot but consider that in 2018, just 15% of those who voted in either the Democratic or Republican primary cast a ballot on the Republican side.
In Starr County, 24% of primary votes were cast on the Republican side Tuesday. It was basically nothing in 2018, with a mere 0.2% of primary votes being cast on the Republican side. That’s a 24-point shift.
Compare this with what happened statewide in Texas this year. There was slight movement toward Republicans: Of the votes cast on the Democratic or Republican side, 65% were Republican primary votes. In 2018, it was 60%. This was a 4-point shift without rounding.
Put another way, the shift in Republican primary participation in those 16 heavily Hispanic counties was nearly three times the statewide shift.
More signs of a shift
Texas, though, is only one state. Further, it’s just a primary.
But even on the national level, Texas does not seem to be that much of an outlier.
While it’s not clear that Hispanic Americans have moved even more toward the Republicans relative to how Americans overall are shifting, it’s clear that Republicans are holding their gains from 2020.
Nationally, the three polls that meet CNN standards for reporting (CNN/SSRS, Fox and Quinnipiac University) have produced generic congressional ballot results since the beginning of the year and provided a crosstab on Hispanic voters’ midterm preferences. The generic ballot asks respondents some form of the following question: “If the elections for Congress were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican Party?”
Democrats have held a 23-point advantage among Hispanics on the generic congressional ballot in the average of these polls so far this year.
An average of three estimates of how Americans voted in House races in 2020 (Catalist, the CNN exit poll and the Pew Research Center) found that Democrats won the House vote by about 28 points in 2020 among Hispanics.
This 5-point shift toward Republicans among Hispanics is in line with the 5-point shift we see among voters overall – Republicans ahead by 2 points on the generic congressional ballot, compared with losing the national House vote by 3 points in 2020.
The key thing to realize, though, is that Democrats did worse – and Republicans did better – among Hispanic voters in 2020 House races relative to the national vote than in any House election since 2004. So while not losing additional ground is not a bad thing for Democrats, it’s not a good thing either.
The Biden factor
If anything, the picture gets better for Republicans when you examine Biden’s popularity. Across the CNN, Fox and Quinnipiac polls this year, the President’s net approval rating averages +2 points with Hispanic Americans. That’s 17 points better than his net approval rating with voters overall in these polls (-15 points).
In the 2020 election, Biden’s margin with Hispanic voters was about 23 points better than it was overall.
So compared with 2020, Biden is doing worse with Hispanics relative to how he is doing with voters overall. That’s notable given that earlier in his presidency, Biden was doing significantly better among Hispanics relative to how he was doing overall and compared with how he did in 2020.
This fits with an analysis from FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley, which found that Biden’s approval rating had fallen disproportionately among Hispanics over the course of his presidency.
The fact that the political preferences of Hispanic Americans are jumping around may get at something larger: Their votes are up for grabs more so than the average voter’s. While they may still be more Democratic-leaning, both parties have a good chance of making up ground among the Hispanic electorate.
I’d expect a lot of attention to be focused on this growing bloc of voters in the midterms.