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Oversimplifying Hispanic Voters

Wildly diverse sets of voters tend to get lumped together by pollsters and reporters.
October 31, 2022
Oversimplifying Hispanic Voters
(Photo by allison dinner / AFP) (Photo by ALLISON DINNER/AFP via Getty Images)

[On the October 28, 2022 episode of The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, guest Charles Lane, panelist Linda Chavez, and host Mona Charen discussed the often-misunderstood diversity of the Hispanic electorate.]

Mona Charen: Let’s talk a little bit more about the electorate, and specifically about Hispanic voters and whether Democrats have misjudged them. Hispanic voters still lean very heavily Democrat, but there’s been a lot of talk about a shift toward the Republicans. And so I’d like to hear you all on this topic. So Chuck, for example, you noted that there are a goodly number of immigrants from Latin America these days that come from countries where socialism has killed their home countries—Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua. And these voters are absolutely, adamantly against anything that smacks of socialism. . . .

Charles Lane: We’ve been talking a little bit about this double-reverse Democratic strategy, where they’re actually running a campaign against María Elvira Salazar, who’s the incumbent congresswoman down in one of the districts in Miami, who is of Cuban descent, and they’re running an attack line against her calling her a socialist—that is, the Democrats are calling her a socialist—because they understand how powerful this epithet is in certain Latin-American communities.

As a high-level point, this illustrates that “Latino” or “Hispanic” is a total misnomer to the extent that people consider it to designate a unified political or cultural group. There’s tremendous variety in terms of heritage [and] history. There’s a group you might call “Hispanic” in New Mexico that consists of the descendants of people who were settled in that state before the United States was even founded. Puerto Ricans have migrated in large numbers to Orlando, and created sort of a whole new ethnic hub in the middle of that state.

The lesson we should all take from this is don’t overgeneralize. And I think, frankly, that’s something the Democrats . . . have tended to do, in large part because they’re encouraged by the consultants and analysts who make a living marketing things to Hispanics in the sort of generic way.

Having said that . . . I think it is still remains to be seen just how big the drift toward the Republicans is going to be. If it happens, it’s going to happen because education, per se, is becoming a stronger dividing line in our politics than ethnicity. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the analytical work that’s been done showing that college education is now a real dividing line between Republicans and Democrats, with the Democrats getting the people with the BAs and above, and many Latinos do not have a college education and therefore sort of fall into what we loosely call the working class. . . .

I think it remains to be seen how large the drift toward the Republicans will be. But I think the reality is the Democrats can’t afford to have it be very large at all before their sort of basic electoral business model starts to fall apart. And I must say, if there’s going to be any kind of long-term alarm bell that rings for them out of this, it would be that they started to hemorrhage, say 5, 10, 15 points there.

The huge irony, of course, being that in 2012, it was the Republicans who thought they needed to change their position on immigration—they had that famous white paper after Mitt Romney lost—and all this expansion of their appeal to the Latino vote is occurring in the post-Trump years. I don’t know if anybody’s really figured out why that is happening and what it means.

Charen: Yeah, it’s fascinating. Well, we just happen to have somebody on this panel whose family traces its ancestry back to, you know, many generations in New Mexico—right, Linda? . . .

Linda Chavez: It’s so nice to hear Chuck say what he did, because I’ve been writing about this topic for many years. My first book, Out of the Barrio, was written, published in 1991. And it made many of these points, first and foremost, that the whole idea of anything such as an “Hispanic” or a “Latino” is a fabrication. These are people whose ancestors hail from 24 different countries. They do have a common language, but if you’ve ever listened to somebody from Puerto Rico speak, and then listen to somebody from Argentina or Mexico, you’ll hear that they’re very, very different. Many of the words are different. Certainly the inflection is different. And the cultures are different.

And Chuck wonders what explains the drift towards Trump. . . . We saw that in the 2020 election along the border. First and foremost, what drives Hispanics is what drives most working-class people. And Chuck is right, at least for the generation who are working as opposed to young people who may still be in school and not yet able to vote or have graduated college and are voting, that they are very entrepreneurial, you know, much more likely to be small-business people. Much more . . . driven by the economy and the opportunities provided. And frankly, what happened during the Trump years, . . . the economy was doing very well, people were working, small-business people were being able to expand their businesses, and this had a great appeal.

There also is, I think, and this is something that nobody likes to talk about, we talked about it a few weeks ago on the podcast, there are frictions between the Mexican-American community in particular, and the black community. And you know, there was a time when we used to talk about blacks and Hispanics and talk about it in terms as if it was all one big group and one happy family all to the left, all voting Democrat. Hispanics, they don’t constitute a racial group. And among Mexican Americans, for example, it used to be that a majority, I think it’s still a plurality, identify their race as white. And whether, you know, whatever you think about that, I think what it really reflects is an aspiration to be part of the great whole of America. And they are an immigrant group, by and large, and because of that, I think they behave much more like immigrants than obviously the black community does, which faces a very different history of discrimination in the United States. And they’ve suffered much worse discrimination, even leaving aside the question of slavery, so it’s a complicated community.

But there’s another phenomenon going on, and that is that there is a lot of outreach to Hispanic voters that’s taking place under the radar by the Republican National Committee. I happened to have the TV on this morning; they were doing a report at one of the colleges in Arizona. And they were talking to young, Mexican-American by and large, voters. And they all talked about how many texts they get every single day from the Republican party. Now, all of these people happen to be planning on voting Democrat. But I still thought it was striking that there has been so much more outreach. And again, a lot of it, I think, is under the radar. And it’s not focused on issues like immigration, it is focused on the economy. . . .

I think we will continue to see that drift of Hispanic voters as they move up the economic ladder. They are much more likely, first of all, to be assimilated, and to vote as others, you know, in whatever their economic class is, with, you know, the college-educated, more likely probably to vote Democrat, but many of the small-business people . . . and those who are working class and identify, maybe as Mexican American, but also as white, voting Republican.

Charles Lane and Linda Chavez

Charles Lane is a Washington Post columnist and an editorial writer specializing in economic and fiscal policy. Linda Chavez is a senior fellow at the National Immigration Forum and one of the chairmen for the Center for Equal Opportunity.