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OPINION

Dissecting Latino voters’ motivations in the midterm elections

A national poll of Latino voters in battleground states reveals what drove them to the polls on Tuesday.

While Florida Republicans performed exceptionally well among Latino voters, Latino Democratic candidate Maxwell Alejandro Frost won Florida's 10th Congressional District. Frost, who identifies as Afro-Cuban, will be the first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress.Stephen M. Dowell/Associated Press

Latino voters in Florida are outliers compared to the Hispanic electorate in the rest of the country.

That is one crucial takeaway from a comprehensive exit poll of more than 5,000 Latino voters — including early voters, those who voted by mail, and Election Day voters — in 11 key states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The large-scale poll, which also included a national sample, analyzed which issues influenced Hispanic voters’ choices for congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial races.

The poll’s results also dispel the narrative that Latinos are realigning toward the Republican Party. “That simply did not materialize in this election,” said Gabe Sanchez, vice president of BSP Research, a Latino-owned polling firm based in Los Angeles, during a briefing with reporters about the results. The notion that Latinos are abandoning the Democratic Party is simply wrong, he said. “Nearly two-thirds of Latino voters supported Democratic candidates” nationwide, Sanchez added. That included South Texas, where a slate of Latina GOP candidates failed to create a red wave.

But the exception was the Sunshine State: Florida was different and “not representative of Latino voters nationwide,” Sanchez said.

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Indeed, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida won reelection easily with roughly 58 percent of the Latino vote, according to a CNN exit poll. Even more impressive, DeSantis decisively took Miami-Dade County, the largest in the state, where he won roughly 65 percent of the vote in majority Hispanic precincts. Not only that, but DeSantis became the first Republican to win Miami-Dade County since 2002 and outperformed Donald Trump in 2020 by 9.3 points in that county. US Senator Marco Rubio also coasted through reelection, beating his Democratic challenger Val Demings by more than 16 percentage points. Rubio earned 54 percent of the Latino vote.

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Why is Florida such an outlier when it comes to Latino voters? The more obvious answer is the significant investment in Latino outreach that Republicans have consistently made in the last few years. Alex Berrios, the cofounder of Mi Vecino, a voter registration organization in Florida, told the Miami Herald prior to Election Day that Latino voters shifting to the GOP seemed to be doing so based on pocketbook issues, even though they are more in agreement with the Democratic Party on social issues. Berrios said it was startling to see significant outreach to Latino Democratic voters from DeSantis’s campaign.

The importance of early and consistent outreach tracks with the findings of the Latino exit poll. “Hispanic voters are sending a wake-up call to both parties that meaningful outreach remains essential,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, vice president of UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization that was part of the press briefing. “The poll shows a majority of Latinos see their values more aligned with Democratic positions.” But “uneven or late outreach by Democrats allowed Republicans to gain some ground,” she said.

About those Democratic positions: The poll found that 83 percent of Latino voters support the Inflation Reduction Act, 75 percent support banning AR-15-style rifles nationwide, and they overwhelmingly favor abortion rights.

“Abortion rights was one of the top vote-motivating issues: 80 percent of Latino voters believe it should remain legal, no matter what their own personal beliefs are on the issue,” Sanchez said. “Whether they’re Catholic or conservative on the issue, they do not believe they should impose their personal beliefs on others.”

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Crucially, Latino voters rejected the MAGA Republican anti-immigrant and toxic message of invasion, extremism, and border fearmongering, particularly in Arizona.

Latino congressional candidates also saw important gains. With some races still yet to be called, there could be up to 10 new Latino members of Congress, including Democrat Yadira Caraveo, who will be the first Latina to represent Colorado in Congress, and Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a 25-year-old Afro-Cuban Democrat who will be the first Gen Z member of Congress.

Despite the evidence that Latinos generally supported Democrats in the midterms, Latinos still think Democrats haven’t done enough and that the party takes them for granted, according to Marisa Franco, cofounder of Mijente, as told to the LA Times’ Fidel Martinez. Democratic investment and engagement in the community is often launched too late or not prioritized. “Latinos are probably going to single-handedly save the Democrats’ ass,” Chuck Rocha told Vox. Rocha is a top Latino Democratic strategist who worked on John Fetterman’s US Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, reaching out to Latino voters with Spanish-language ads during the World Series. Fetterman won over 70 percent of the Latino vote.

While choices by Florida’s Latino voters are an imperfect source to extrapolate national narratives from, the state serves both as a warning and a perfect example for Democrats about the importance of sustained and earlier outreach to Latino voters. More important, Democrats need to deliver for Hispanics, especially on immigration, an issue Democrats blatantly ignored in their midterm messaging. For instance, what is President Biden going to do about Dreamers and DACA, which is likely to be terminated by the courts? All the Latinos nationwide who voted Democrat now want to know.

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Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.