In the lead up to the midterm elections, a lot of attention is being paid to Hispanic voters. Polls show that many Hispanic voters plan to vote for the GOP this cycle, continuing the trend of 2020, when a record number of Hispanic voters went for Trump. In 2020, Joe Biden secured the votes of less than 60 percent of Latinos, a drop from the 75 percent who voted for Barack Obama in 2012. This surprised Democrats—but I wasn’t surprised.
I’m a Hispanic American from a working-class neighborhood. I’m also a progressive. But this hasn’t stopped me from noticing a trend in recent years that goes a long way toward explaining why Latinos are defecting for the GOP: It’s because Democrats don’t take Latino voters seriously.
I live in Chula Vista, California, a 20 minute drive from the Mexican frontier. My city’s population is 60 percent Hispanic, and while Chula Vista maintains a steadfast blue majority, people here are socially conservative, or at least fairly traditional. In that sense, we’re a typical Latino community: working class, family oriented, and deeply committed to self-reliance and hard work. Or, as my grandfather likes to put it, “I hate lazy people.”
My parents came to the U.S. from Mexico, and my early years were precarious. I saw a lot of budgeting every week, and there was the occasional night at a motel. My mother fought cancer twice—and won. But we quietly soldiered on. She took on part-time jobs, and my father eventually got a good union job, which meant my brother and I could go to college. I’m currently a sophomore at UC Berkeley.
My parents’ strongest conviction has always been that one faces hardship with valor. And though our struggles were ours alone, this attitude is common among the families I grew up with.
Dignity. Family. Hard work. Self reliance. These are the values of Hispanic Americans—and why they are politically in play.
“We didn’t shift away from Democrats; Democrats shifted away from us,” was how Delia Dominguez, a retired county worker and Hispanic local of Chula Vista, aptly put it when we caught up a few months ago.
Delia recently switched parties because she no longer felt represented by the Democrats. Her skepticism began when she was chastised by a local Democratic chapter for opposing abortion. She says she was told that her presence wasn’t welcome anymore. Then, at a school board meeting, some members called her a racist for lamenting the gulf in educational outcomes between the poorer and wealthier parts of the city; Delia feels that the focus on “equity” comes at the expense of lower income students, especially talented Hispanic ones who are not being given the same opportunities.
Delia was once part of the Democrats’ base, a woman whose immigrant parents worked in the fields so she would have more opportunities. Now she feels alienated from the party.
I often hear views like Delia’s in my community, and routinely meet other Hispanic voters—aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors—who have a growing distaste for Democrats.
And there are more tenacious activists taking up the cause. I see placards for Republicans all over our majority-Latino town, like for Marco Contreras, a business owner running for Chula Vista City Council whose campaign website teems with messages about supporting law enforcement and small businesses. “There is greatness inside every human being,” reads his website. Contreras wants everybody to “fulfill their own American Dream.”
I, too, understand Delia’s reservations and Contreras’ placards. Democrats seem preoccupied with issues that just don’t address the struggles of Hispanic Americans. While the Democrats seem obsessed with Trump, January 6, and what they view as threats to our democracy, 17 percent of Hispanics live below the poverty line. Fifty-one percent had trouble paying bills in 2020—the year Trump gained so much ground with Latinos.
Many working-class Hispanic voters are just beginning to recover from the wreckage of the pandemic. They’re still being clobbered by inflation. My community is looking for a living wage, quality jobs, a good education for their kids, and a sensible cost to the good life, above all else.
Taking Hispanic voters seriously means focusing on these issues.
There is still time. All is not lost for the Democrats. Vox recently published an arsenal of data and analysis on Latino voters, which found that we might swing the 2022 midterm election, though which way is still uncertain; a small percent of Hispanic voters in toss-up races could even decide which party controls the House. Vox found that the top two issues for Hispanic voters are crime and inflation, and that Republicans have made substantial gains with Hispanic voters in Texas border cities dismayed by the Democrats’ mishandling of their concerns. Experts say Democrats need to invest in Hispanic outreach and avoid cringy displays, like Vice President Jill Biden comparing Hispanics to “breakfast tacos.”
The truth is, it’s simple: If the Democrats want to keep our votes, they need to learn about the issues Latinos care about—and learn to stop taking us for granted.