Hispanic & Republicans: A Word of Caution on the ‘Realignment’

    The Democratic Party’s standing with Hispanic voters in the national polls continues to implode. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal numbers found that “by 9 percentage points, Hispanic voters in the new poll said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat. The two parties had been tied among Hispanic voters in the Journal’s survey in November.”

    But if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that polling doesn’t always reflect reality on Election Day. It’s important to pay attention to how Hispanics are actually voting. 

    By many metrics, Hispanics do seem to be voting more Republican: Glenn Youngkin beat Terry McAuliffe outright with the demographic in the Virginia gubernatorial race, for example. Nationally, Hispanic support for Trump increased by about eight points from 2016 to 2020, and the swings were far more pronounced in certain key areas. For example, Trump improved his standing in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which is 68 percent Hispanic, by 22 points.

    Nowhere has this Hispanic realignment been more dramatic than South Texas. As I wrote in January, “the last year or so has seen a rightward turn in the Tejano border communities in South Texas, mirroring or outpacing the shift toward the GOP in Hispanic voters nationwide. (Five of America’s six biggest county-level shifts to Trump from 2016 to 2020 occurred in South Texas: In Texas’s 99 percent Hispanic Starr County, for example, Trump’s numbers improved by a remarkable 55 points).” Chuck DeVore of the Texas Public Policy Center told me at the time that South Texas’ heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley was a “litmus test” for the Texas Hispanic population’s partisan loyalties. “If that’s true, things look bleak indeed,” I wrote. “Not only did the heavily Hispanic border region move rapidly toward Trump from 2016 to 2020, but a Hispanic Democrat from Rio Grande City went so far as to switch parties and register as a Republican in November.”

    But some numbers from earlier this month should also caution against preemptive Republican celebration. 

    In the Texas party primaries earlier this month, “turnout in the Republican primary was nearly twice that in the Democratic primary,” Dan McLaughlin writes. “35 of the 254 counties in Texas set records for the most votes ever in a Republican primary, and 182 counties set records for the most votes ever in a Republican midterm primary.” But there was a notable exception: South Texas. Texas Monthly notes:

    As the sun rose across South Texas, from Laredo all the way down the Rio Grande to Brownsville, the final counts in the March 1 primary made one thing clear: Democrats had shown up in much, much higher numbers than Republicans.

    In the Fifteenth Congressional District, anchored in McAllen and where Republicans have their best shot at flipping a soon-to-be vacant seat, Democratic primary voters outnumbered Republicans by about 20,000 to 16,000. The daylight between the Dems and the GOP was even greater in the Thirty-fourth, anchored in Brownsville, at 29,000 to 10,000, and the Twenty-eighth, anchored in Laredo, at 24,000 to 13,000. 

    Now, it’s important not to read too far into these results. As Texas Monthly notes, “turnout in primaries often does not predict the results of the general election. And in South Texas there’s another confounding factor: many Republicans vote in the Democratic primaries. Because city and county offices in Laredo have long been dominated by Democrats, there are often no Republicans running in certain races, [which] means that many Republicans who want to vote on local political issues in the primaries have resorted to casting ballots in Democratic races.”

    But of course, we can’t know how many Republicans vote in Democratic primaries, and how much the disparity between South Texas and the rest of the state owes to that phenomenon. Even as there are many signs that the area is moving right, there are also some progressive counter-trends: Jessica Cisneros, an AOC- and Bernie Sanders–backed progressive, mounted a viable primary challenge to the conservative Hispanic Democrat Henry Cuellar — now likely the most conservative member of his party in the House, following the loss of fellow pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski to a primary challenge in 2020 — in South Texas’ 28th congressional district. Cuellar and Cisneros both failed to pass the 50 percent threshold to win outright, and are headed for a runoff on May 24.

    All of that is just to say that Republicans shouldn’t be hubristic about the favorable recent poll numbers, encouraging as those numbers may be. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal poll, for example, also showed 27 percent of black voters saying they’d back a Republican candidate. As it just so happens, an October 2020 Rasmussen poll found something similar: According to that poll, 27 to 31 percent of black voters said they were likely to vote for Trump. But on election day, “Biden received 92% of the Black vote, statistically indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s 91% in 2016,” writes the Brookings Institute. “His support among Black women was never in doubt, but President Trump’s alleged appeal to Black men turned out to be illusory. (His share of the Black male vote fell from 14% in 2016 to 12% in 2020 while Biden raised the Democrats’ share from 81% to 87%.)”

    The GOP has good reason to be optimistic about the potential for inroads with Hispanics — and perhaps even nonwhites more broadly — both in Texas and across the country. But they can’t take it for granted. The so-called “realignment” of working-class nonwhites moving into the Republican coalition isn’t inevitable. If it happens, it will be the result of years of hard work. 

    Content created by Nate Hochman

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