New York Johan is young, Latino – and yet will vote Republican in November. "Crime is currently so high, then the homeless problem and immigrants," he sums up. Democratic leadership is not doing a good job, in his opinion.
Like many other Latinos in the U.S., Johan, who works as a doorman in one of Manhattan's many apartment buildings, has an immigration story: His parents moved to the U.S. with him from the Dominican Republic, and he himself was barely a teenager at the time.
Time and again, Latinos like him have been the target of Republican gerrymandering against immigrants; former President Donald Trump even wanted to stop people from Latin America from entering the country with a wall. How is it that a growing number of them nevertheless elect representatives of the Republican Party?
Traditionally, Latinos, i.e. people who are themselves from Latin America or whose ancestors come from the region, position themselves Democratic. While about 40 percent of Latinos favored Democrats in 2018, however, that difference has dropped to 27 percent, according to a recent poll by polling firm Post-Ipsos. Now Latino voters could become the decisive group of voters in the midterms.
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The midterm elections on 8. November are considered a mood poll for the next presidential election and could reshuffle Congress. A majority for Republicans in both chambers is realistic.
Five million more Latino voters
Currently, Democrats are only slightly outnumbered in the House of Representatives. There all seats are newly elected, in the Senate it is one third. Currently, Senate Republicans have 50 votes, Democrats have 48, and Independents have two. Together with independents voting with Democrats and the vice presidential vote, U.S. President Joe Biden's party has a razor-thin majority.
Midterms – US midterm elections – What's at stake??
House of Representatives
In the midterm elections on 8. November, the US elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives. House members are generally limited to two-year terms. So far, the Democrats have 222 seats there, the Republicans 213. Together with the Senate, the House of Representatives forms Congress.
In the Senate, Americans are re-electing only one-third of the 100 seats at midterms – a total of 35. Of the seats now up for election, 14 have so far been held by Democrats and 21 by Republicans. Currently, the Republicans in the Senate have 50 votes, the Democrats have 48 and the Independents have two. Together with independents and the vice presidential vote, Democrats nonetheless hold the majority.
In 36 of the 50 states, the election will be held on 8. November also sees new elections for governor, i.e. state leaders. Of the states with gubernatorial races so far, 20 are led by Republicans and 16 by Democrats.
Among the most hotly contested states that could shift the balance of power in Washington are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Latinos are the second-largest voting group in the U.S. – and the fastest growing. Nearly 35 million Latinos are eligible to vote, making up about 14 percent of all eligible voters. In the last midterm elections in 2018, there had been about five million fewer Latinos allowed to vote in the election.
And they are not in a good mood: About 77 percent of them are dissatisfied with the current political situation in the U.S., and slightly more than half of them are dissatisfied with the job President Biden is doing. The population group feels neglected by his party. About a third of them don't believe Democrats really care about Latinos.
Jesse Aman is a political consultant and alumni of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a nonpartisan organization that represents Latinos in Congress. She sees several reasons Democrats are losing approval among Latinos.
Many Republican issues appeal to the Hispanic community.
For one, the Latino designation includes many different cultures, religions and family backgrounds. Different priorities and concerns are at the forefront for each grouping, she says. "Latinos vote Republican because they absolutely care about issues that are no longer important to Democrats," Aman says. For example, many of the five million new voters in the demographic came from the Republican-leaning Midwest, grew up with the culture there and voted accordingly.
The change, especially among younger voters, is also being experienced by New York's Johan. "All my parents knew from their home country were the Democrats," he says. "But the younger generation that lives here now is experiencing the system in the U.S.They don't automatically think the Democrats are the best choice," he says.
Latinos vote by issue preference
According to a Pew Research Center poll, fewer than half of Latinos recognize much difference between the two parties. They only vote based on issue preference rather than an entire policy orientation. Most important to Latinos is the economy, health care, crime and education.
Latinos often have multiple jobs in order to survive. "There are a lot of Latinos who can barely pay for gas to drive to work," Aman says. "And they still have to decide whether they'd rather have a roof over their heads or food on the table."
For Johan, too, the issues that matter most are those that affect him in his daily life, such as the energy crisis: "Yes, the war is affecting high gas prices," he admits. "But when the Republicans were in power, we were paying about $2.50 a gallon". Meanwhile, in New York, in line with the U.S. average, it's about a third more.
The issue of immigration, where Democrats are much more liberal than Republicans, is of little concern to most Latinos, explains consultant Aman. "People are automatically convinced that immigration is the top priority for Latinos," she says. Yet, he says, this is one of the issues on which not all Latinos share the same point of view and, in some cases, support the Republicans' tough stance against immigration.
So it hardly seems contradictory that ex-President Trump actually received more Latino votes in the failed 2020 election than before – despite or because of the wall construction on the border with Mexico.
Between 2016 and 2020, the former president saw his approval rating among Latinos rise significantly.
Many Latinos are also bothered by the trend, often associated with Democrats, of using gender-neutral terms. This includes the made-up word "Latinx". It stands for people from Latin American countries and should replace Latino or Latina and also "Hispanic". Hispanics include only people who are from Spanish-speaking countries.
More on elections in the U.S:
In a survey by the Democratic polling firm Bendixen & Amandi International, only two percent of respondents who are from Latin America identify as "Latinx," 71 percent prefer the word "Hispanic," and 40 percent said they are bothered or even offended by "Latinx.
The term also causes incomprehension among Jose Castillo, a Republican from Florida. "Hispanic" simply means Spanish-speaking and is thus already gender-neutral. Why should we use Latinx now??", he asks.
Florida is one of the states where Democrats are currently losing massive Latino votes, as University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus observes. This, he said, was in part because Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened the amusement parks, where many Puerto Ricans work, early in the pandemic.
Democrats could use appropriate resources to try to win over younger Latinos,
That Latinos are migrating to Republicans was evident even before this year's election, according to figures from the Pew Research Center. While 66 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, only 59 percent voted for Biden four years later. In contrast, the share of the Latino vote for Trump increased by ten percentage points between 2016 and 2020, rising to 38 percent.
Political consultant Aman, however, still sees hope for the Democratic Party. "Democrats need to invest more money, resources and effort, and then they could convince young people," she says.
A plus could be the student loan forgiveness that Biden has put in place. Minorities benefit especially. "Many of those this would affect are young. Perhaps the results of the measure will show up in the November elections after all."