This may be one of the biggest takeaways of the 2022 midterms: Latino voters, the new swing voters, could very well determine which party controls both the House and Senate.
Will Hispanics help propel a so-called red wave on Election Day? Or will they help Democrats control the Senate like they did in 2020? It’s suddenly conventional wisdom that Latinos are leaving the Democratic Party and becoming Republicans. It’s true that the GOP has made gains among Hispanics, particularly since 2020. And it’s also true that they are split on whether they approve of President Biden’s job performance in most polls. Still, in the aggregate, Latino registered voters are still more likely to support Democratic candidates than Republican ones, according to several recent surveys.
The high variability of all those Latino voting patterns and data points brings us to an incontrovertible conclusion: Latino voters — who, it has long been established, do not vote cohesively as a monolith — are up for grabs. Hispanic voters are among the fastest-growing voter blocks and represent the second-largest group of eligible voters — nearly 35 million Latinos are eligible to vote this year.
According to a September Pew Research Center study, 8 out of 10 Latino registered voters “say the economy is very important in making their decision about who to vote for in the 2022 congressional elections.” But beyond that, how Latino voters respond to a certain party or candidate depends on what region and which issue we’re talking about: California Latinos vs. Florida Latinos are not going to care about immigration policy in the same manner; meanwhile, keeping abortion legal seems to matter more to younger Latinos than older ones.
So, where are Latinos more likely to tip the scale in hotly contested races? Latinos account for more than 20 percent of the registered voters in more than a dozen competitive races in the House, including in Florida, Texas, and New Mexico, according to The New York Times. But in the US Senate, Nevada and Arizona are two of the races that are critical for Democrats to keep control of the chamber.
In Nevada, Latinos account for nearly 20 percent of registered voters. The incumbent is Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina ever to serve in the Senate. She is facing a challenge from Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general who is a MAGA Republican endorsed by Donald Trump. Cortez Masto and Laxalt are in a statistical dead heat. As of Monday, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, which uses a complex model and data from various polls, has Laxalt as “slightly favored” to win the seat. A recent Univision poll among all registered voters found that Cortez Masto has a two-point lead over Laxalt. “That lead is due in large part to Latino registered voters in the state, 60 percent of whom favor the Democrat with only 27 percent backing the Republican,” wrote the poll’s authors.
Jon Ralston, the longtime oracle of Nevada politics and the CEO of The Nevada Independent, predicts Cortez Masto will prevail with 47 percent of the vote to Laxalt’s 45 percent. “The early voting numbers don’t indicate a red wave, just the possibility of one if everything breaks right for Republicans,” Ralston wrote. “Laxalt’s campaign has been desultory and depressing. Cortez Masto is not exactly Rita Moreno on the campaign trail, but she has been disciplined and on message, and her media has been sharp and memorable,” Ralston wrote.
Then there’s Arizona, where one in five registered voters is Latino. Senator Mark Kelly, the Democratic incumbent, is facing Republican Blake Masters, whose campaign has relied heavily on anti-immigrant rhetoric. They are statistically tied in some polls while Kelly seems to have a lead on most. FiveThirtyEight has Kelly as slightly favored to win. According to the Univision poll, Latino voters support Kelly over Masters 60 percent to 23 percent. Democratic US Representative Ruben Gallego, who represents a district with a large Latino population in Phoenix, told the Associated Press that it will be about voter turnout. “The question is, will young Latino voters come out and vote?”
Of course it’s all about turnout. That’s where the investments of Democrats and Republicans in getting Latinos out to vote matters. Chuck Rocha, co-host of “The Latino Vote” podcast and political strategist, noted in a recent Twitter post that “[t]here is not a single Hispanic campaign manager or Media firm this year in the top 30 marginal democratic congressional races.” After Election Day, every postmortem about Latino voters will surely find that those are the types of strategies that a campaign must pay attention to if they care about the Hispanic electorate.