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The Post-midterm Hot Takes Regarding Latino Votes Should Be Avoided

Rep. Mayra Flores, the GOP darling from South Texas, stated emphatically that “the red wave did not happen.” She was discussing the likelihood that Republicans will win close House, Senate, and governor races across the nation. However, she might have just as easily been referring to the much-hyped realignment of Latino voters in favor of the Republicans during the 2022 midterm elections.

The complete set of data may not be available to us for some time. But based on what we know from erroneous exit polls and election surveys, it doesn’t seem like the Great Realignment really transpired, even though Republicans did make gains with Latino voters in several places.

Flores was a member of the group of conservative Latina candidates that Republicans hoped would solidify the notion that the Democratic Party’s hold on the Latino vote was waning. She lost Tuesday night in her bid for reelection in a district that had been redrawn.

She wasn’t alone in this: In Virginia, moderate Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger easily defeated political outsider and former police officer Yesli Vega by a margin of three points, a larger margin than in Spanberger’s previous two elections. In South Texas, Republican challenger Cassy Garcia was unsuccessful in her attempt to unseat conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar. To win, both competitors required a sizable Latino voting bloc, which neither received.

If we take a broad view, that is the picture. However, if we focus more closely, on certain areas, indicators of a smaller, more subtle “paradigm shift” do arise. As a result, ignore the claims that Democrats have no issues with Latinos or that the Latino population isn’t genuinely moving to the right.

Consider Florida, where former President Donald Trump narrowly defeated President Joe Biden in 2020 by outperforming his 2016 showing in the heavily Latino Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade and the entire state voted in the opposite direction this year, re-electing Sen. Marco Rubio and Governor Ron DeSantis with double-digit margins.

There were areas where Democrats did well among Latinos as well. In Pennsylvania, Democrats appear to have won Latinos by a similar percentage to Biden in 2020, at 70-30, despite the fact that a larger proportion of Latino voters cast their ballots than in that election. A similar picture could materialize as more ballots are tabulated in Arizona and Nevada.

The extraordinarily close contest for Lauren Boebert in a Republican-safe seat was described. It’s understandable if the landscape appears to be challenging. We don’t currently have enough information to fully understand how Latinos voted.

However, it appears that while Republicans and Democrats may have retained some Latino voters in some areas and even made some gains with them, it is simply too soon to pronounce any significant, abrupt changes in the Latino vote. In essence, avoid Latino vote hot takes.

In areas with sizable Latino populations (including California, Arizona, and Nevada), votes are still being tallied, therefore stories about how Latino voters influenced the 2022 midterm elections are being constructed with insufficient voter data.

Early exit polls are likewise insufficient sources from which to infer national narratives, in part because their results need to be adjusted in light of the actual electorate, as opposed to expectations about what the electorate may look like on election day. Exit polls also don’t provide as much information as labor-intensive county- and precinct-level analysis.

That being said, the only information we currently have is the restricted voter data and exit polls. Additionally, both demonstrate how Republicans nationwide appear to have made progress with Latinos. In the AP VoteCast data, which was compiled through a combination of mail, online, and phone polls and research, Democrats’ percentage of support among Latinos decreases from 64 to 63 to 56 percent from 2018 to 2020 to 2022, while Republicans’ share rises from 33 to 35 to 40 percent.

In those three cycles, network exit surveys suggest that the Democratic vote share fell from 69 percent in 2018 to 65 percent in 2020 and then to 60 percent in 2022, while the Republican vote share rose from 29 percent in 2018 to 32 percent in 2020 and then to 39 percent in 2022.

These numbers raise the question of whether political orientation is declining or returning to its previous level. These data parallel Latino GOP support in the 1990s, as Carlos Odio of Equis has observed. The solution to this issue won’t be fully understood for many years, if not decades.

The precise national percentages will undoubtedly vary when more ballots are tabulated and the outcomes of House districts and statewide contests, where Latino voters will undoubtedly have an impact, are announced. However, looking at the actual ballots cast is another way to get some quick answers on how Latinos voted at this point. However, this method comes with another warning: Don’t use Florida as a national barometer.

Florida typically captures the attention of the nation on election night because of its East Coast time zone, relatively quick process for reporting out results, and traditional standing as a swing state. It did so in 2020, when Republicans enjoyed a sizable victory in Miami-Dade this year and when Donald Trump’s surprisingly quick triumph in the state corresponded with his success there.

Many commentators attempted to interpret Florida’s results and extrapolate them to the rest of the country, particularly what the state’s outcomes indicated for the distribution of Latino votes statewide. But Florida is a special creature; it is unlike any other state in the nation in terms of its mix of foreigners, immigrants, nationalities, and media ecosystems. Anyone who is knowledgeable about the quirks of Latino voters will realize this.

Amid a midterm year with an unpopular Democratic trifecta in Washington, DC, and the failure of a consistent strategy among national and Florida Democrats trying to regain a foothold in the state — which aren’t necessarily the case in other places — large Republican improvements in the state could be chalked up to a combination of active Republican outreach, consistent conservative and economic messaging, incumbency advantages, higher approval ratings for incumbents, and incumbency advantages.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke appeared to be running about even with Biden’s performance in that year in South Texas, which has aroused concerns about a Republican increase among Latinos in 2020. Democrats won the majority-Latino 28th Congressional District, where conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar outperformed Vice President Joe Biden in the area, and flipped back Flores’ seat, which is located in the predominantly Latino 34th Congressional District.

Meanwhile, Democrats suffered some losses in New Mexico, the state with the highest proportion of voters who identify as Latino. The incumbent Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, appeared to be underperforming in comparison to her 2018 election, and her Republican opponent narrowed the deficit a little. Despite this, a Democratic opponent named Gabriel Vasquez won a Republican-held seat in the state’s competitive Second Congressional District, where more than half of voters are Latino and the district’s boundaries were redrawn to benefit Democrats.

Meanwhile, Latino voter participation in Arizona, California, and Nevada might mean the difference between a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic Senate majority. Working-class Latino turnout in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, could determine whether Democrats retain Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s seat in Nevada, where she must make up a vote deficit of nearly 15,000 votes.

Obviously, Latinos don’t all look alike. If you want to find a pattern in this, let it be that Latinos vote quite differently across the nation. Of course, there are differences among Latino voters; at Vox, we’ve devoted a lot of time and space to explain them. However, it’s possible that different Latino electorates will simply exhibit varying degrees of Republican and Democratic influence in the 2022 midterm elections.

While certain types of Mexican American voters in the West and Southwest, who are still more ready to give Democrats a chance — and with whom Democrats did engage, look to be under the Republican thumb, they seem to have less of a hold on voters of Cuban American and South American origin.

Leading Democratic Latino strategist Chuck Rocha, who assisted with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, attributes a portion of Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania’s Senate race to Latino voters. Republicans didn’t have the same level of outreach that Rocha’s firm did, which helped Fetterman this election season by running a significant get-out-the-vote and persuasion effort.

Because Democrats didn’t urge Puerto Ricans to swing back to the left, people who look at the Florida exit polls and say, “Well, there’s been this shift of Puerto Ricans to the right,” are mistaken. They [likely] voted 70 to 30 for the Democrat in locations where we [did], like Pennsylvania.

According to Rocha, Democrats and liberal organizations spent millions of dollars and countless hours communicating to Latino voters in the areas where they increased their margins with that demographic. This was particularly likely to be true in the West and Southwest, where Latinos are generally more susceptible to Democratic candidates and persuasion attempts due to higher degrees of shared identity.

Rocha emphasized that a return to previous Democratic vote shares outside of Florida would be a positive indicator for Democrats’ hopes of improving their performance and relationship with these people. “Latinos are probably going to single-handedly save the Democrats’ ass,” Rocha said.

Despite apparent Republican gains outside of Florida, the final results may show Democrats maintaining a substantial majority among Latino voters. For the time being, avoid making generalizations that disregard regional variations. One thing is obvious, though: despite the fact that Democrats were expected to have a bad year, they managed to maintain a healthy level of support, especially in states that are crucial to the party’s future aspirations.

However, the midterm elections have shown that Republicans can be persuasive in some areas and that Latino voters are susceptible to persuasion, so their performance should still serve as a warning to the party. Democrats should pay attention to that message if they want to prevent further defeats, even though it appears that they came out good from this election.

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