Democrats’ latest bad poll: 1 in 5 Latino voters considers party switch

Both Democrats and Republicans are considering making a change, but it’s Biden’s party that has more to lose.

Democrats’ latest bad poll: 1 in 5 Latino voters considers party switch0

A Trump 2024 flag waves at a “Freedom Rally” in support of Cubans demonstrating against their government in Miami on July 17, 2021. Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images Christian Paz is a senior politics reporter at Vox, where he covers the Democratic Party. He joined Vox in 2022 after reporting on national and international politics for the Atlantic’s politics, global, and ideas teams, including the role of Latino voters in the 2020 election.

Since 2020, one of the major questions hanging over the 2024 election is whether Latino voters will continue to ditch Democrats in favor of the GOP. Now, a new national poll of Latino voters offers some warning signs for Republicans as well as Democrats as the general election crystallizes: A sizable chunk of Latino voters appear to be willing to rethink their party loyalties.

Some 19.4 percent, or about one in five Latino voters, say they have considered changing their political affiliation either by switching parties or becoming independents, according to a national survey released by Florida International University (FIU) and the marketing firm Adsmovil. A majority of those wavering voters (61.1 percent) say they’d be open to leaving the Democratic Party and a plurality of those Democratic waverers (38.1 percent) would become Republicans.

Though that’s a small share of all Latino voters, that’s still a significant number for a demographic group whose loyalty to Democrats has been eroding since Donald Trump’s presidency.

“We used to say in political science that party [identification] was one of the most stable things that we could use to study,” Eduardo Gamarra, the co-director of FIU’s Latino Public Opinion Forum and the author of this study, told me. “It was generational. You could go back three or four generations of voters and [party ID] would remain stable. Now, all of that is changing, and especially so among Hispanics.”

To be sure, a majority of Latino respondents say they are still pretty firm in their political identity and affiliation. Democrats — including President Joe Biden — still win the support of an outright majority of Latino voters.

Some caveats are also in order when looking at polls: This result is just one data point — a snapshot in time at the end of 2023. And the election is still eight months away, so dynamics could definitely change.

But it’s a large, high-quality piece of data — a nationally representative sample of 1,221 Latino voters instead of an extrapolation from a tiny crosstab sample of a few hundred. Since 2020, other surveys and election results have also shown that Democrats are struggling to retain the support of Latino voters and reverse Republican gains. This FIU report suggests that trend is continuing.

It also suggests that 2024 is shaping up to be a tumultuous year for American voters, particularly those younger and more diverse constituencies that make up a core part of the Democratic coalition, including Latino and Hispanic voters. These voters are feeling pressure from many directions, and Republicans have an opportunity to expand the inroads they have made and held since the 2020 election.

The Democratic coalition is changing. The open question is just how drastic that change will be.

Latinos’ partisanship has been fairly stable

Gamarra is right when he says that partisanship has tended to be a pretty static factor in American politics; the same is roughly true for Latino voters. Looking at survey data from 1994 to 2017, the Pew Research Center reports that partisan affiliation among all registered voters has generally not changed in those two decades. The same has been true for Hispanic and Latino voters in the years for which Pew has data available: The share of Latino voters identifying as Democrats or leaning to that party has stayed roughly the same from 2004 to 2017 with about a 60-30 split in affiliation.

But more recently, those allegiances have shifted a bit — and to Democrats’ detriment. Trump made electoral gains with Latinos in 2020 that Republican candidates were generally able to keep during the 2022 midterms. And the Democratic advantage in Latino partisan affiliation began to shrink during and after Trump’s presidency. In 2017, for example, Democrats enjoyed a 35-point advantage over Republicans with whom Latino voters identified; two years later, that advantage was 28 points, according to Pew’s numbers. That smaller gap stuck around in 2022.

Those are small shifts, but they point to there being fertile ground for additional changes in partisan loyalty during the 2024 cycle.

And this is where the FIU/Adsmovil study adds new insights: Those 19 percent of Hispanic and Latino voters who say they’d be open to switching parties are mostly voters who’d be open to leaving the Democratic coalition — about 60 percent of those voters.

More specifically, 38.1 percent of these wavering voters would flip affiliation from Democratic to Republican. An additional 23 percent would switch from Democratic to independent.

The survey also showed Latino Republicans rethinking their chosen party. But those Democratic losses are greater than whatever gains they would make from Republicans changing their loyalty. Of these waverers, 11.1 percent would flip from Republican to Democrat and 6.2 percent would leave the Republicans to become independent.

There’s a silver lining for Democrats among self-described independent Latino voters who are considering a change. There, 9 percent would become Democrats, as opposed to the 5.3 percent who would become Republicans.

These numbers confirm a finding from Pew after the 2022 midterms that, though partisan affiliation has been relatively stable for most of the last 20 years, the future of these patterns “remains uncertain.” A good deal of Latino voters are the kind of partisans “with soft ties to the political parties.” According to Pew, there are about one in 10 Latino voters who call themselves Democrat or Republican but hold political and ideological views that are much closer to the opposite political party.

These are the kind of cross-pressured, persuadable voters that could be won over through smart campaigning, tailored messaging, and exploiting the preexisting sense of dissatisfaction many voters have with both parties.

An opportunity doesn’t guarantee an outcome

These figures all suggest that Republicans have a big opportunity in 2024 to reorder demographic and political coalitions. But it won’t be easy.

When asked which political party would better handle specific issues, Democrats still receive the support of a majority of Latino voters on traditionally Democratic topics, like education or health care, in this FIU/Adsmovil study. But they only get a plurality of support on the economy, immigration, and foreign policy — areas that make sense for Republicans to center as campaign issues this cycle.

At the presidential level, the FIU poll also shows that Trump and Republicans can hold onto their 2020 gains. A third of Latino voters say they’d back Trump now, while a slight majority of 53 percent would back Biden. A separate 13 percent aren’t sure about their pick, and it’s this wavering group of voters that Republicans have a chance to attract and that may have a wavering loyalty to Biden specifically.

Still, about 60 percent of Latino voters in this poll think the Democrats are the political party that best represents them, compared to the 24 percent who say that about Republicans. That 60 percent is higher than both the share of voters who would call themselves Democrats (56 percent), and who would back Biden now (53 percent), which suggests room for Democratic growth and a challenge for Republicans who will have to do a lot of persuasion in the next few months.

And there will be more to complicate the path for Republicans: Latino voters have a lower propensity to vote, to be tuned into the political cycle at this point, and to hear from political candidates, meaning they’ll have to invest heavily in outreach and specific messaging to these communities. Democrats have a slight leg up on this, given how much they have relied on Latino voters before.

But all the signs are pointing toward an electorate in churn. It may still shift a lot in the coming months, and it may surprise a lot of people come November.


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