Donald Trump’s improbable victory and controversial presidency have made the upcoming mid-term elections one of the most closely watched congressional contests in recent times. As Election Day draws near, a plethora of pundits are offering both dire and optimistic forecasts about the Democrat’s chances of retaking the House and Senate. The media has given considerable attention to women and Latino voters, as they seem to hold the key to a Democratic Party victory or defeat. Of course, there is considerably hubris in assuming that the outcome of the 2018 election hinges on one or two groups within the electorate. Nonetheless, Latinos are poised to be pivotal players in many races, and my goal here is to offer a sobering assessment of Latino political behavior in this election. My analysis is based on data gathered from a tracking poll of Latino registered voters conducted by Latino Decisions and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). The tracking poll, now in its seventh week, provides us with the best evaluation of trends in Latino political behaviors and attitudes.
Perhaps one of the most important questions surrounding the Latino electorate is whether they will turn out to vote in November. Before examining the results of our tracking poll, it is important to note that Latino performance in past elections does not tell us how they will perform in this or future elections. This seems like an obvious point, yet many of the media stories circulating today are based on exit poll data from past elections. Unfortunately, those media reports are based on exit polls with serious methodological flaws. In the current Latino Decisions/NALEO tracking poll, respondents were asked to assess the likelihood of voting in the upcoming midterm election. Responses could range from being “certain that I won’t vote” to “almost certain I will vote.”
Trend data show an upward surge in Latinos’ intentions to vote on November 6. In a related question, we asked Latinos if this election was more important than the 2016 and 2014 elections. On average, two-thirds of respondents said this is election was more important than those previous elections. Thus, the data strongly indicates high rates of turnout among registered voters. Of course, there are millions more who have yet to register, providing an opportunity for both parties to expand their outreach efforts and potential base.
Having established compelling evidence of large rates of voter turnout, we can turn out attention to the issues that are driving Latinos to the polls. Are Latinos most concerned about immigration, the economy, or something else? Moreover, regardless of Donald Trump’s rhetoric, do these issues align with those of congressional Republicans? Each week, we have asked respondents the following question: “What are the most important issues facing your community that you think Congress and the President should address?”
Table 1 displays the top six issues identified by Latino voters. Over time these issues are largely stable given that all remained among the top six. Nonetheless, there are important variations across time. In the first week of the poll (early September), the top issue for Latinos was “stopping Trump and the GOP agenda.” By week seven, that issue has fallen into fifth place. Protecting immigration rights came in third during the first week and is now listed as the top issue. While immigration is currently listed as the most important issue facing their community, economic issues, affordable health care and improvements to education are not far behind.
Clearly, Latinos are not a single-issue group and the issues important to Latino voters are closely aligned with positions taken by the Democratic Party and its candidates. Nonetheless, Latino Republicans argue that the strength of the economy could provide inroads with Latino voters, or as one supporter noted, “if you look at [Trump’s] accomplishments, the job market, the stock market, he is doing what he said he would do.” To what degree are Republican congressional candidates making inroads with Latino voters?
Survey respondents were asked whether they were likely to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate this November. The results, plotted in Figure 2, show a significant gap in support between Republican and Democratic candidates. Indeed, the gap in party support widens over the course of the seven weeks. In week one, the gap was at 42 points and by week seven the gap had grown to 46-points. The results above provide a national perspective of Latino voters, but if we focus on Latinos in Texas and California, the data show that the partisan gap is significantly larger. In Texas, 72% of Latinos plan to vote for the Democratic congressional candidate, while a mere 20% say they will be voting for the Republican candidate, a gap of 52 points. In California, 72% of Latinos plan to vote for the Democratic candidate, while only 15% say they will vote for the Republican candidate, a gap of 57 points. In short, the situation looks bleaker for Republicans in Texas and California, two states with several battleground races.
Over the last week a number of media stories have circulated about the Democrats having a “Latino problem.” The basic narrative is that in 2018 Latino enthusiasm is down, contact rates are down, and significant numbers continue to support Donald Trump despite his ongoing attacks. The evidence in support of these conclusions is based on anecdotes or methodologically flawed data. The data drawn from the Latino Decisions/NALEO tracking poll shows that it is Republicans who have a Latino problem. We find no evidence that Latino enthusiasm is down in this election. In fact, the likelihood of turning out to vote is trending in a positive direction. I have discussed contact rates in previous blogs and those rates are increasing over time. When it comes to support for Donald Trump and Republicans, our data show that there is no evidence that Latinos are backing either in significant numbers. Indeed, support for both keeps slipping. Again, the so-called “Latino problem” is a Republican predicament, not a Democratic one. Nonetheless, there are millions of Latino citizens who are waiting to be registered to vote and the reality is that both parties have a Latino opportunity. I am confident that the party or candidates that seize this opportunity will emerge victorious in November.
Methodology. On behalf of NALEO Educational Fund, Latino Decisions interviewed 500 Latino registered voters nationwide from August 28–September 3, 2018 and carries of margin of error of 4.4%. Each week, for the next nine weeks, a fresh sample of 250 registered voters is added and combined with the previous 250 interviews to create a rolling average for each week, consistent with most tracking polls methodology. Respondents were randomly selected from Latino Decisions partner web panels and confirmed to be registered to vote. The survey was self-administered and available in English or Spanish at the discretion of the respondent. Data were compared to the best-known estimates of the U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) for demographic profile of Latino registered voters and weights were applied to bring the data into direct balance with Census estimates.