Do the Democrats have a “Latino problem”?

NBC News thinks they do, and is concerned that they may not be able to “fix it in time” for the 2018 election. NBC News frets that “party operatives and tied-in organizations in [Texas] and across the country are seeing signs — surprising to some — that many Hispanics may sit out the midterms.” This “lack of enthusiasm among Latinos has party leaders concerned that a key part of the coalition needed to take back the House and Senate may stay home.”

The rambling NBC News article concludes that Latinos intensely dislike President Trump and his party, but that this animosity doesn’t translate into a willingness to go to the polls and express it. NBC’s explanations for the alleged apathy range from plausible (Latinos typically vote less than other groups and the Latino population is comparatively young) to ridiculous. Falling squarely into the latter category is the view of one Democratic operative that anger toward Trump, rather than driving votes, is turning people off of politics altogether, and that this process is part of a deliberate White House strategy.

At NRO, Reihan Salam, drawing on an article by León Krauze, presents a much more intelligent and fact-based analysis. He points to Krauze’s observation that “Latino voters seemed to have slowly warmed up to the president.” Indeed, a recent NPR/PBS/Marist poll found Trump’s approval rating among Hispanics is 41 percent. Hispanic support for Barack Obama in his first term — 49 percent — was not that much higher.

Both numbers, Obama’s and Trump’s, are in line with the overall approval ratings (at the corresponding times) of the two presidents. The numbers thus back up Salam’s thesis that, like most voters, Latinos are focused mainly on the economy. They differ from African-American voters who tend overwhelmingly to support Democrats regardless of the state of the economy (though this may be changing to some extent).

Salam argues, however, that Latino voters might become more of an identity politics bloc as the second-generation Latino working class comes of age:

Naturalized citizens tend to vote at lower rates than their native-born counterparts, and many, in my experience, take what you might call a “quietist” approach to politics in their adopted country. The native-born Latino population of today, meanwhile, came of age in earlier decades, when this population was considerably smaller and many of its members lived in integrated environments, where they came to identify with the political and cultural sensibilities of their non-Latino neighbors and friends.

I agree with Salam that there’s a good chance of “a strong left-wing turn, in which working-class Latino youth reject milquetoast center-left liberalism in favor of a more assertive brand of populist socialism.” I’m less persuaded by his alternative scenario, “a right-wing turn, in which changing immigration flows (that is, the continuing slow down in Latin American immigration and the expected rise in Asian and African immigration) and anti-elitist sentiment lead more native-born Latinos to embrace immigration restriction.”

For now, I think Latino voters will continue to disappoint leftists. I think this will be especially true in 2020, assuming the economy is still in pretty good shape.

Since 1980, the two Republicans who made out best with Latino voters are Ronald Reagan (1984) and George W. Bush (2004). The two Democrats who made out best are Bill Clinton (1996) and Barack Obama (2012). A decent economy and an incumbent president have meant comparatively good Latino support, and I believe the formula, if tested, will apply in 2020.

For more of Reihan Salam’s views on such matters see his book, Melting Pot or Civil War: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders.

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