Welcome to Voices Of Color, a column that explores what’s on the minds of voters of color in this year’s midterm elections. Too often, media coverage focuses on the political preferences of white people with euphemisms like “suburban women” or “middle class.” But in this column, we want to know what makes voters of color tick.
We want to explore their views on politics, policy, the future of our democracy, our two-party system and everything in between. We hope that this column offers fresh perspectives from the minds of those whose political opinions are often overlooked or assumed. If you think you might be a good fit for this column, fill out this form — we might get in touch.
Was it his promise of economic prosperity for Latino Americans? After all, the No. 1 issue for Hispanic registered voters — like the broader electorate — that year was the economy, according to the Pew Research Center. Or could it have been his pledge to construct a border wall and enforce a type of “law and order” along the U.S.-Mexico border, which might have appealed to certain Southern voters, particularly those in Texas? It’s still not entirely clear.
The upcoming midterm elections will test the durability of Republican gains — and Democratic losses — among this key group. Both parties are doubling down on their efforts to appeal to Latino Americans. But perhaps the most important lesson from 2020 was that Latino voters — the country’s fastest-growing voting bloc — can’t be painted with a broad brush. “We’re a growing percentage of the population, and, over time, we’ve become even more important to the parties,” said Georgiana Hernandez, 66, of New Mexico. “But I don’t see Latinos as monolithic. And in tight races, any movement you can get among the racial groups is important. It all comes down to being attuned to our needs and appealing to issues that are important to people of different stripes.”
Still, I wanted to see what was on the minds of five Latino voters in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections. Unsurprisingly, and as the chart below illustrates, a range of policies are top of mind for Latino voters when it comes to deciding who they’ll cast a ballot for.
|Inflation and the rising cost of living||50%||
|Women’s reproductive and abortion rights||29||
|Lowering the costs of health care||27||
|Improving wages and creating more jobs||23||
|Addressing mass shootings and gun safety policy||23||
|Combating climate change and pollution||18||
|Protecting immigrant rights||12||
|Creating more affordable housing||11||
While, like for all Americans, economic issues like inflation and cost of living are still Latino voters’ No. 1 concern, according a recent NALEO poll, abortion rights and health care were also top of mind for a number of surveyed respondents. (This range of priorities was reflected in my interviews, too.)
But when it comes to the top issue on the minds of Latino Americans, neither party has a clear advantage. As the chart below suggests, respondents are almost evenly split on which party they trust more on economic issues. They tend to favor Democrats over Republicans, however, on other issues, like immigration and gun policy, but my reporting also suggests that many Latinos are more socially conservative, which could be a problem for Democrats.
In short, this is why polling on Latino voters is often so hard to gauge — like all voters, they hold different, often competing, priorities. And in speaking to these five people, I wanted to get a better grip on these complexities as we move closer to Election Day. I learned that these Latino voters want the parties to treat them as a complex, multifaceted voting bloc — and they’re aware of the power they wield. As Hernandez told me: “Latinos can really swing things one way or the other, so it’s no surprise to me that our votes are considered competitive.”
The interviews below have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alex Samuels: What are the most important issues to you heading into the midterm elections?
Carlos Ruiz (58, Arizona, Republican): The economy and inflation are the most important issues to me, but I’m also prioritizing the lack of control on the border.
Alicia Bejarano (19, South Carolina, Libertarian): This year, I’m going to be looking closely at what candidates have to say about gun reform and their reaction to the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. I’m also interested in issues related to policing and police accountability. I don’t know whether I have strong feelings about the police being defunded, but, at least currently, I feel like law enforcement isn’t capable of de-escalating situations in a way that doesn’t lead to more violence or death.
Jaime Vasquez (20, Texas, Republican): My top concern right now is making sure that Americans get to keep our natural rights as they’re recognized in the Constitution. It’s important to realize that without the Second Amendment, there can be no First Amendment. My No. 2 issue is the economy, since I have concerns about increased government spending by the Democrats.
Diana Agapay (42, Florida, Democrat): My top issue going into the midterms is expanding abortion access and improving health care access for women. My second top issue is investigating any previous presidential administration that has done anything illegal and making sure that they go through our existing criminal justice system — as any non-government figure would. And the third top issue for me is probably inflation, but I think that’ll eventually calm down.
Georgiana Hernandez (66, New Mexico, Democrat): There are three: One is climate change, which I’ve been very concerned about for quite a while. The second is reproductive rights. And the third is voting rights.
AS: Can you reflect a bit on your mood going into this election and whether it’s different from two years ago?
Vasquez: I don’t feel any more enthusiastic for this election than I was in 2020. Two years ago, I quickly realized what the election meant — and the importance of it. Even though [Republicans] were in power at the time, the election felt like an inflection point because the race could have swung either way. And I still feel that way heading into this year’s midterm elections. We’re still at a crossroads, it seems, and there’s the same level of enthusiasm to go and vote [this year] — at least on my part.
Hernandez: I’m more anxious about the midterm elections than I was for the elections in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, 2020 was very anxiety inducing, but I feel like the stakes are much higher now for Democrats.
AS: During the 2020 election, Latino voters moved further right. Why do you think that happened? Have you personally moved more toward Republicans since 2016; if so, why?
Ruiz: I’ve been a registered Republican since I was 18 — which would’ve been around the Reagan era. But I think the economic prosperity from 2016 through 2020 was across the board and that Hispanics saw a more open, unregulated economy with lower taxes that allowed more people to either increase their wages or grow their businesses. As a result, I think people moved more toward Republicans and the political philosophy that supports that kind of economic environment.
Bejarano: I didn’t necessarily move right since 2016, and I can’t speak for all Latino voters, but I can speak from experience when saying this: I come from a Hispanic family, and a majority of them are Republicans. In the Hispanic community, there’s this ‘bootstrap’ ideology among people who immigrated to the United States that you have to ‘do the work’ to get here. I’ve noticed that in my family, and in talks with other Hispanic families, we have this sense of responsibility and honor. And that honor arises from the fact that we all came into this country ‘the right way.’ Then you have Republicans who are basically saying, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what we want.’ I’m personally not drawn to that bootstrap ideology, but since Republicans are the main ones saying it, I can understand why some Hispanics moved toward them.
Vasquez: My views are still the same as they were in 2016, but I think I’ve become more bold and open in my support for Republicans. My family and I have been a small minority in South Texas because it has been blue for decades, and we were always that one Republican family in the neighborhood that felt like our vote didn’t matter. But, in 2020, things shifted here, and my area — and the Rio Grande Valley, more broadly — swung pretty heavily toward Republicans. The fact that the politics down here changed so much in just four years was pretty shocking, to be honest. I’m not really sure what attributed to the switch, but I can make some guesses: South Texas, especially the RGV, is still very much rooted in traditional values similar to what many conservative voices in the Republican Party advocate. I also think that Democrats moving further left on social issues, particularly the ‘defund the police’ narrative, turned off voters who had families working in law enforcement or border patrol.
Agapay: I did not move toward Republicans at all. If anything, I’ve moved more left. I do have thoughts, though, on why some Latino voters may have moved toward Republicans. I’m a first-generation American, both of my parents immigrated to this country, and I believe that Latinos tend to be more conservative, especially when it comes to their faith. I also think that Republicans use fear-based messaging in their attempts to target Latino voters and, in a sense, have convinced some of us to be fearful of Democrats.
AS: As of today, do you lean more toward the Democratic Party, the Republican Party or neither? And what, if anything, would it take for you to support the opposing party?
Ruiz: The Republican Party. But if a Republican candidate had what I would call a very fringe philosophy and a Democratic candidate was more centrist, that might cause me to vote for the Democrat. But if I had a choice between a person that had fringe philosophies on the left and fringe philosophies on the right, I’d probably just not vote in that race.
Bejarano: In terms of issues like gun reform, police accountability and my disapproval over the overturning of Roe — those are issues that I trust the Democrats on more. So, for the moment, you could say I have nothing against Democrats because we have a lot of the same values. That said, I’m not Democratic nor Republican: I’m a Libertarian. And in order for me to support Republicans, I’d need to see their grip on the interpretation of the Constitution loosen a bit to allow for new ideas to flourish that would better accommodate our modern society.
Vasquez: Definitely Republicans. I don’t think there’s anything that Democrats and I currently see eye-to-eye on, so I’m not sure there’s anything that could convince me to vote for them.
Agapay: The Democratic Party, but I could probably support a Republican candidate who’s actually going to be truthful and stand up to the nonsense that has been coming out of the Republican Party for the past six years.
Hernandez: Definitely the Democratic Party. I don’t see myself ever supporting a Republican.
AS: Why do you think Latino voters are such a coveted bloc for both major political parties?
Ruiz: We are a large population but, historically, our voting propensity is not that high. And if Latino voters could be encouraged to cast their ballots more frequently, then all of a sudden both parties would look at them as a large, more competitive voting bloc as they do with other races.
Bejarano: As bad as it sounds, I think both parties just want to say that they have the minority vote. They see it as, ‘Oh, these are the honest and good people that worked hard to get here.’ But that alone is not sound logic and is not a good enough reason alone for them to court Latino voters.
Vasquez: I think it has to do with the changing demographics of the country over the last two censuses. Since at least 2010, there’s been a dramatic increase in the Hispanic population. And bringing more Hispanic voters into your tent could really change the dynamics of each party’s politics — Republicans especially. There has always been this narrative that Republicans are anti-minority, and they have a big opportunity to change that if they get more Hispanic voters on their side. Meanwhile, the Democrats have always tried to tout themselves as the pro-minority party, so they probably want to maintain that talking point because they think it makes them seem, in my opinion, more morally virtuous.
Agapay: For the simple fact that we are growing in numbers. Plus, I think Latino voters finally realized that we have a voice and that we can use our voice to sway elections.
AS: How could each party better appeal to Latino voters?
Ruiz: I grew up middle-class: My father was a heavy equipment operator and my mom was an office worker, but all of my siblings and I went to college and we became more successful than our parents had. That’s the American Dream, and Democrats would do a bit better if they sent a similar kind of message to Latinos that the American Dream is possible through hard work and education. And I think Republicans have improved their messaging on immigration to be less offensive, but some of the language there should be centered more on the needs of our country versus talking about specific groups of people coming in.
Bejarano: They need to go to the places where we are. Whenever I hear about politicians traveling, they’re always going to Texas or California or Florida because there happen to be large swaths of Latinos living there. But, in addition, they should also go visit places like South Carolina. I certainly didn’t expect to find anyone here of my same heritage, but we do have a foundation; and both parties could do a better job at tapping into Latino populations in other, smaller, states. Both parties could also do a better job at talking with younger Hispanics between the ages of 19 and 25. I feel like we’re not as readily acknowledged.
Hernandez: I think both sides could do a better job at listening to what Latino voters are asking for, but that will differ depending on where we live. For example, Latino voters living in more rural areas may have different needs than those, say, living in large urban or suburban areas.
AS: Recent polling shows that the economy is a top issue for Latino voters. Which party do you agree with more on economic issues, and why?
Bejarano: I’m more frugal with money, which, as I understand, is more in line with the Republican Party’s way of thinking.
Vasquez: I definitely agree with the conservative point of view, which takes a more laissez-faire [economic] approach, coincided with limited government spending and lower taxes on individuals.
Hernandez: I definitely agree more with the Democratic Party. I think that President Biden has done as much as he can do to try to lower gasoline prices, but there’s a lot that’s not in his control as far as supply chain issues go.
AS: Are there other issues where you trust one party over the other? If so, what are those issues?
Ruiz: On crime, I trust the Republicans more. And even though this is more of a local issue, I think housing affordability is something that the Democrats would be a little bit better at addressing because they might be more creative with planning and zoning.
Vasquez: On crime and immigration, I trust the Republican Party more.
Hernandez: I trust the Democratic Party to do what’s in the best interest of the American people overall. I have no faith in the Republican Party, and that’s why I’m nervous for this election — I can’t bear to think about the potential consequences if we lose both the House and Senate.