How important are Latinos to Democratic prospects in the 2018 election? On one level, this seems like an easy question to answer. They are a fast-growing group and are now America’s largest minority group, surpassing blacks as a percentage of the population. They tend to vote Democratic, on average at about a 2:1 rate. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that they will play a big role in in an expected “blue wave” of Democratic victories this fall, especially given Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric toward Latino immigrants.
But all is not as it seems. The reality is that, while Latinos will certainly be helpful to the Democrats in this election, they may not play as big a role as many Democrats hope.
Start with the question of turnout. Some articles report anecdotal evidence of a lack of excitement among Hispanic voters, despite the presumed threat posed by President Trump and his allies. And a nationwide tracking poll of Latinos by the Latino Decisions polling firm reports that well over half (55 percent) of Hispanic registered voters have not been contacted in any way about the upcoming election.
However, traditional indicators of campaign interest paint a different picture. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 73 percent of Latinos now expressing very high interest in the midterms—a higher level than among all registered voters—and up from just 49 percent a month ago.
Thus it is quite possible that Hispanic turnout will be relatively high this election—as indeed it could be for the electorate as a whole looking across various indicators of interest and enthusiasm. But it should be kept in mind the Hispanic turnout starts from a low base (just 27 percent in 2014, the last midterm election) so that, even it goes up, it is still likely to be substantially below that of whites and blacks.
As for Democratic support, average levels among Latinos appear strong and consistent with historical patterns. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll put national Hispanic support for Democratic Congressional candidates at 66-26, while the Latino Decisions tracking poll has it a bit higher at 69-24.
But we also see considerable variation in Latino support when we look at specific races around the country. Looking across a range of competitive Congressional races that the New York Times is polling, Democratic candidates generally have solid leads among Hispanic voters, but in some key races fall short of the 2:1 lead that Democrats would ideally like to see. Even allowing for the notorious difficulties of polling Hispanics and relatively small sample sizes, these are concerning figures.
In key statewide races, we also see some strong but not overwhelming leads for Democrats among Latinos. For example, in Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke is hoping to unseat the very conservative GOP Senator Ted Cruz, Democrats had hoped for crushing margins among Latino voters. Recent polls, however, have Cruz pulling 37 percent of the Hispanic vote and keeping Democratic margins in the 20-25 point range. This is very good of course but does not suggest the tsunami of Latino support Democrats probably need to counter their weakness among white, particularly noncollege, voters in Texas.
Thus, while Democrats will clearly benefit this cycle from the Hispanic vote—and the higher the turnout of this group, the better for them—available data indicate that these voters, by themselves, are not some sort of magic elixir for the party. They are a part, but only a part, of the political puzzle Democrats seek to solve.