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60% of Latino voters say U.S. is ‘on the wrong track’ but remain largely ignored by both parties

In a UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota poll of Hispanic registered voters, abortion was among top issues for the first time ever. Yet only 59% planned to vote in November.
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Democrats and Republicans seemingly are not doing enough to tailor their messaging toward Latino voters, most of whom said in a new poll that the U.S. is "off on the wrong track."

The poll was commissioned by UnidosUS, the largest Latino nonprofit advocacy organization, and Mi Familia Vota, a Latino political and civic engagement organization, and conducted in mid-July by the national firm BSP Research, which mainly focuses on Democratic polling.

Of the 2,750 eligible Latino voters surveyed, 60% said they believe the country is on the wrong track.

While that number was higher under President Donald Trump, when roughly 72% of Latino voters said the nation was heading down the wrong path, "60% is still a high number," Clarissa Martinez, vice president of the Latino vote initiative at UnidosUS, told NBC News.

"People can think that things are not going right, and that's one of the things that propelled them to actually participate" in elections, Martinez said.

And yet, only 59% of the Latinos surveyed said they will definitely vote in the midterm elections in November, according to the poll.

That number tends to go up as Election Day gets closer, "but I do think that number is a little lower than in previous elections," Martinez said. "That's why it should be a wake-up call to both parties and candidates to do their job."

The Latino voters surveyed also reported some shifting priorities ahead of the midterm elections.

They listed inflation (46%), crime and gun violence (36%), jobs and the economy (29%), health care (22%) and abortion (19%) as the most important issues elected officials should be addressing, according to the poll.

That's somewhat different from the issues that concerned Latinos ahead of the 2020 presidential election. They were most worried about the Covid-19 pandemic (55%), jobs (41%), health care (32%), racial justice (19%) and education (18%), according to a previous UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota poll conducted two years ago.

"Latinos have always been very concerned about quality of jobs and their ability to make ends meet. Those concerns are pressing right now," Martinez said. "The seismic shift is that abortion has never been at the top of the agenda."

Coronavirus Pandemic 2020 Presidential Election Nevada
Supporters on horseback rally as Latinx supporters attend a Biden-Harris Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus in Las Vegas on Oct. 24, 2020.Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade over a month ago, 19% of surveyed Latino voters said abortion is now among their top issues, compared to just 3% in 2020.

Of those who listed abortion as an important issue this year, 69% said they worry that abortion bans put women’s lives at risk and 58% are concerned that elected officials could pass laws further restricting women’s reproductive rights, such as making birth control illegal.

Moreover, 76% of surveyed Latino voters believe that no matter what their personal beliefs about abortion are, it is wrong to make abortion illegal and take that choice away, according to the poll.

"This is very significant and more significant is understanding what's behind that," Martinez said. "People don't want to see extremes."

A similar trend can be perceived in the way Latinos view gun violence.

In previous election years, gun violence usually ranked among the top 10 issues concerning Latino voters, but that changed following the massacres in El Paso and Uvalde, where the majority of those killed were Latino, Martinez said.

Of the surveyed Latino voters who listed gun violence as an important issue this year, 72% said they worry that guns are too easy to access while 60% believe elected officials need to find a way to put an end to school shootings, according to the poll. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents also said there's a need for community safety and mental health programs.

"While some are trying to steer up anxiety with the issue of crime, what Latinos are identifying is concerns about the proliferation of guns and the need for elected officials to do everything in their power to intervene," Martinez said.

The question ahead of the November midterms is whether specific issues such as abortion or gun violence would be enough to change a voter's usual party preference or ideology or motivate new voters to participate.

With just three months left until the midterm elections, 47% of the Latinos surveyed across the nation said no one has contacted them to encourage them to vote.

"There's chronic underengagement and underinvestment in these voters," Martinez said. "It's mind-boggling that it continues, considering the growth of these communities, considering there was higher participation levels in the last two elections."

Latinos registered and voted in record numbers in the 2020 presidential election following a previous trend established in the 2018 midterms. Hispanic voting turnout leaped by 13.4 points from the 2014 midterms to 40.4% in 2018. 

So far this year, 29% of Latino poll respondents said they have been contacted by Democrats ahead of the midterm election while 19% reported having been contacted by Republicans.

"Both parties, if they want to talk about Latino support, they need to actually court that support," Martinez said. "There's warnings to both parties here and there's opportunities for both parties here."

Despite the lack of engagement, the poll showed Latino voters believe Democrats will be better at addressing issues of gun violence, abortion and health care. But they view Republicans as better positioned to address issues surrounding inflation, jobs and the economy.

"Continuous engagement of this electorate can help us strengthen our joint, civil society," Martinez said.

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