Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans have been riding a wave of positive press about their gains among Hispanic voters as Democrats fret about hemorrhaging support from the fast-growing demographic.
But while Democrats clearly have a problem, the GOP’s growing support among Latinos is less dramatic than some headlines suggest, according to a new poll conducted by a top Latino Democratic pollster and underwritten by a conservative Spanish-language network.
About 48 percent of Hispanics nationwide consider themselves Democrats, and only 23 percent identify as Republican, the poll found. Hispanic voters give President Joe Biden a positive job-approval rating, 48 percent to 29 percent, in contrast to disapproval of 54 percent to 44 percent among registered voters overall in the most recent NBC News poll.
By a margin of 10 percentage points, they said their opinion of the administration has improved in the past year, while a third said their opinion hasn’t changed.
Still, the poll bears numerous warning signs for Democrats. By a double-digit margin, more Hispanic Democrats are considering leaving their party compared to Hispanic Republicans. Such potential party-switchers are mainly becoming independents or third-party voters — and they also tend to line up more with Republicans on some issues.
Overall, Hispanic voters are more likely than not to think the country is moving in the wrong direction, by a margin of 5 percentage points, according to the poll. Also by a margin of 5 percentage points, a majority agreed with the statement “The Democratic Party has been kidnapped by progressives.” On each of these, independents aligned more with Republicans than Democrats.
“The results showed good news, but not great news, for the Republican Party and conservative candidates,” Jorge Arrizurieta, the president of the Americano network, wrote in a polling memo obtained by NBC News.
“We confirmed what we thought might be true: Hispanic voters are moving toward the center-right, but continuing this trend will require engagement by the party and its candidates,” Arrizurieta wrote. “Republicans must show up in the Hispanic community.”
Arrizurieta and Americano officials wouldn’t comment on the poll. Neither would pollster Eduardo Gamarra, a Democrat and professor at Florida International University in Miami, who conducted the bilingual survey from Feb. 20 to March 11 of 1,500 Hispanics drawn from 15 Latino-heavy states. It reported a margin of error of +/- 3.5 points.
The poll, one of the largest samples of Hispanic voters taken in recent months, provides both a blueprint for conservative outreach efforts like Americano’s, as well as a more complete picture of the challenges both parties face in courting the demographic.
Chuck Rocha, a Texas-based Democrat who specializes in Latino outreach, said the poll confirms what he has seen nationwide: Republicans aren’t making massive gains.
But they don’t need to, Rocha said, because Hispanic voters are a part of the Democratic Party’s base, so the more Republicans eat into Latino margins — even if it’s just a few points — the more it can make a difference in state or congressional races in California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada or Florida, where sizable Latino populations live.
“For the first 20 years of my 32-year career, Republicans didn’t spend a dime on Latinos in Spanish,” Rocha said. “But then they realized they can get 2, 3, 5 or 10 more points, and they’ve wised up, and Democrats were caught on their heels.”
That surprise came into sharp focus in 2020, when President Donald Trump improved his margins among Latino voters nationwide, compared to his performance in 2016. The gains were most notable along the Texas border, home to many Mexican Americans, and in Florida, which has a mix of Puerto Rican and Cuban American and other South and Central American voters.
Asked whether “the Republican Party today has become Donald Trump’s Party,” Hispanic voters agreed by 56 percent to 17 percent, the poll found.
Trump also marginally topped all other potential 2024 presidential candidates when respondents were asked an open-ended question about whom they would like to win the White House. Trump’s name was volunteered by 20 percent of respondents. Former first lady Michelle Obama was the second most named, at 19 percent, followed by Biden, at about 18 percent.
“This is a more significant finding for Republicans," pollster Eduardo Gamarra wrote in an executive summary of the survey he conducted, noting that apart from Trump, not a single candidate including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis "could muster over 10%.”
No other Republican candidate "will likely be competitive if Trump is in the race," Gamarra wrote.
Vice President Kamala Harris, a rumored heir to Biden, was in single digits, at 6.8 percent, in sixth place behind the 8 percent who said “none of the above” and the 7.2 percent who said “don’t know.”
Overall, 51 percent of Hispanic voters named a Democrat as their choice to win the next presidential election, compared to 33 percent who named a Republican. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they voted for Biden in 2020, compared to 31 percent who said they voted for Trump.
In another open-ended question, Hispanic voters said their top problem was high inflation (22 percent), an issue Republicans have made central to their midterm election messaging against Democrats. The poll found, however, that 42 percent blamed inflation on Covid-19, compared to 29 percent who pegged it on Biden and 18 percent who said Trump policies were at fault.
The pandemic was rated as the third most pressing problem (14 percent) behind second-place Ukraine (16 percent).
Hispanics aren’t as concerned with other issues Republicans are campaigning on, like immigration, which ranked fifth in importance, with 8 percent naming it. Crime ranked eighth in importance, at 5 percent. Drugs and drug trafficking was in 10th place, with 4 percent naming it as a top problem.
In an open-ended question about the “principal threat” to U.S. security, 32 percent said Russia, an issue that’s proving more divisive in the GOP than in the Democratic Party. Nearly 30 percent said racism and white supremacy, while socialism and communism came in fifth as a top threat, with 10 percent of respondents naming it, mainly because of strong Republican sentiment.
With the national rise of Democratic socialists, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, Florida Republicans found success in 2018 by branding the Democratic Party as socialists overall.
Trump embraced the message two years later. He also opposed the Black Lives Matters demonstrations in 2020 and calls to “defund the police,” which could be problematic among Hispanic voters, because 47 percent said they trusted police in the poll.
Democratic strategist Evelyn Pérez-Verdía, who specializes in Latin American affairs and Hispanic outreach, said Trump exploited a measure of anti-Blackness in pockets of various Hispanic communities and Latin America.
“We are seeing a pre-meditated effort to connect leaders who are Black with defunding the police/violent protests/Antifa messaging and connecting all three to socialism,” she said via text message.
But she also singled out her party’s left flank for not understanding that words like “progressive” in Spanish have a totally different connotation for those who fled socialist governments in Latin American countries.
“Please also blame the ‘progresistas’ who have given us the finger when we have told them for years that this word makes Foreign-born Latinos (now U.S. Citizens) in the U.S. run the other way,” she said.