Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Democrats Are Anxious About 2022 — and 2024

The fretting starts with the party’s declining share of the Hispanic vote, but it doesn’t end there.

By Thomas B. Edsall

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

In the wake of the 2020 election, Democratic strategists are worried — very worried — about the future of the Hispanic vote. One in 10 Latinos who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 switched to Donald Trump in 2020.

Although the Hispanic electorate is often treated as a bloc, it is by no means a monolith. It is, in fact, impossible to speak of “the Hispanic vote” — in practice it is variegated by region, by country of origin, by ideology, by how many generations have lived in the United States, by depth of religiosity (and increasingly denomination), as well as a host of other factors.

From 1970 to 2019, the number of Latinos in the United States increased from 9.6 million to 60.6 million, according to Pew Research. The number is projected by the census to reach 111.2 million, or 28 percent of the nation’s population, by 2060.

Public Opinion Strategies, which conducts surveys for NBC News/Wall Street Journal, provided me with data on presidential voting from 2012 to 2020 that show significant Republican gains among the roughly 30 percent of Black and Hispanic voters who self-identify as conservative.

From 2012 to 2020, Black conservatives shifted from voting 88-7 for the Democratic candidate to 76-17. Black conservative allegiance to the Democratic Party fell by less, from 75 percent Democratic, 9 percent Republican to 71 percent Democratic, 16 percent Republican.

The changes in voting and partisan allegiance, however, were significantly larger for self-identified Hispanic conservatives. Their presidential vote went from 49-39 Democratic in 2012 to 67-27 Republican in 2020. Their partisan allegiance over the same period went from 50-37 Democratic to 59-22 Republican.

The 2020 expansion of Republican voting among Hispanics and Asian-Americans — and to a lesser extent among African-Americans — deeply concerns the politicians and strategists seeking to maintain Democratic control of the House and Senate in 2022, not the mention the White House in 2024.

The defection of Hispanic voters, together with an approximately 3 point drop in Black support for Joe Biden compared with Hillary Clinton, threatens a pillar of Democratic competitive strength, especially among Black men: sustained high margins of victory among minority voters whose share of the population is enlarging steadily.

The increased level of support for the Republican Party among minority voters has raised the possibility that the cultural agenda pressed by another expanding and influential Democratic constituency — well-educated, young activists with strongly progressive views — is at loggerheads with the socially conservative beliefs of many older minority voters — although liberal economic policies remain popular with both cohorts. This social and cultural mismatch, according to some observers, is driving a number of minority voters into the opposition party.

Joshua Estevan Ulibarri, a partner in the Democratic polling firm, Lake Research, argues that a substantial number of Latinos do not view themselves as people of color, reject a political alliance based on that bond and “want to be seen as white or as part of the mainstream.”

Ulibarri emailed me to say that he believes that “Hispanics see what white America has done to Black America, and the backlash leads to more G.O.P. votes.”

In shifting their vote from Democratic to Republican, Ulibarri contends, “it is not just partisan identity they are shedding, but also some racial identity as well.” In the past, “they may have been conservative and Latino, but you were Latino first and the way you were treated as a group and discriminated against trumped some ideology. Now, less so.”

The Democratic Party, Ulibarri said, is responsible in part for the losses it has suffered:

It is not just conservative men who have drifted away from Democrats. More and more younger people are identifying less with my party not because they are Republican or conservative, but because Democrats do not keep their word; Democrats are weak. And who wants to align with the weak?

Ian F. Haney López, a law professor at Berkeley, who wrote about the danger to the Democrats of Hispanic defections in a September 2020 Times oped, expanded his argument in an email on the Lake Research study of Hispanic voters, which found most Latinos fell into three categories.

The first, roughly a quarter of the Hispanic population, is made up of those who self-identify as people of color, according to the study, “as a group that, like African Americans, remains distinct over generations.”

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