Most people think of the Republican party as the party of white conservative evangelicals. And, to a large extent, that’s true. But the GOP is also making a concerted effort to court Latino and Hispanic voters, and to a remarkable degree, the party is succeeding.
The GOP has 31 Hispanic Congressional candidates on the ballot this year, including 11 incumbents. The effort is paying off. In a swing district in Virginia, Yesli Vega, the GOP candidate, is neck and neck with incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger. Vega, a former police officer, has been leaning heavily on her personal story as a little girl fleeing El Salvador with her family in the 1980s to avoid violence there.
It’s not just Hispanic and Latino candidates who are benefiting from the outreach. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is doing extraordinarily well among Hispanic and Latino voters and could actually win the majority of the Latino vote in Miami-Dade county. That vote, which has been traditionally Democratic, hasn’t gone for a Republican governor since 2002.
At first glance, the GOP would hardly seem the friendliest place for Hispanic voters. The party has made anti-immigration rhetoric a staple of its campaign. Some of it has been explicitly anti-immigrant and openly racist. That starts with the head of the party, Donald Trump. Still, Trump won about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2020.
However, several polls taken this year found that the Republicans’ track record doesn’t seem to bother a lot of Latino and Hispanic voters as much as the economy does. A New York Times poll found that Hispanic voters ranked the economy the most important issue in this election and, more disturbingly, were pretty much equally divided between which party was better able to handle the economy.
Democrats can take comfort from the fact that Hispanic voters still favor the party by a wide margin, but that margin has been shrinking. A Washington Post poll found Democrats with a 27-point advantage in this year’s midterms, but that’s down from a 40-point advantage in 2018.
A significant segment of Hispanic voters is more conservative than many people realize, particularly on cultural issues. For example, Latino support for legal abortion is lower than it is for the general population, even among Latino Democrats.
That’s also true of LGBTQ issues. A Pew survey found that 37 percent of Latino voters said that legal marriage equality was “good for society,” while another 35 percent said it was neither good nor bad. The figures were virtually the same when asked about the presence of transgender people in society. Most polls asked about support for marriage equality, so it’s hard to compare these results to those. However, the Pew numbers suggest somewhat softer support than the 70+ percent support of marriage equality that other surveys find.
How much of the shift to Republicans is simply a result of this year’s economy and not the result of a long-term realignment is anyone’s guess. There’s every reason for Latino voters to be repulsed by the GOP’s flirtation with white supremacists. Voters may simply feel that Democrats aren’t paying enough attention to the issues that matter to them.
But whatever the reason, Republicans have a chance to capitalize on the opportunity. Even peeling away a few votes in a tight election matters. And that can give Republicans a boost next month and in 2024. Ron DeSantis is counting on a big Latino turnout for him to position himself as the inevitable GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination, with all the attacks on the LGBTQ community that will invariably mean.