San Luis – Arizona: In a surprising turn of events, a growing number of Hispanic voters in Arizona and other battleground states are shifting their allegiance to former President Donald Trump and Republican candidates, posing concerns for Democratic President Joe Biden as he prepares for a potential rematch with Trump in the 2024 general election. This trend among Hispanic voters, who have traditionally leaned Democrat, could have significant implications in swing states that will play a pivotal role in deciding the election.
Michele Pena, a Republican candidate for the Arizona state legislature in a heavily Hispanic and Democratic-leaning district on the Mexican border, exemplifies this shift. Pena, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a single mother with no political experience, defied expectations and secured an upset victory last year. Despite facing a campaign budget of just $1,600, Pena resonated with voters by focusing on their concerns about high food and gas prices, job prospects, and the quality of schools, rather than solely on issues around minority rights.
According to interviews with political analysts from both Republican and Democratic backgrounds, this shift among Hispanic voters towards Republicans is a cause for concern for the Democratic Party. In the 2020 presidential election, Trump’s national share of Hispanic voters increased by 8 percentage points to 36 percent compared to the 2016 election, as reported by the non-partisan Pew Research Center. A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey of nearly 800 Hispanic adults conducted this month showed Trump narrowly leading Biden in support, 38 percent to 37 percent.
Ruy Teixeira, a veteran Democratic political analyst, acknowledged the weakening of Democratic support among Hispanics since the 2016 elections. He argued that Democrats have been overly focused on issues such as voting rights and portraying Trump as a threat to democracy, while neglecting to address working-class voters’ primary concern: high prices. Teixeira emphasized that the Democratic Party should prioritize economic issues that resonate with working-class Hispanics.
Democrats, however, reject the notion that they are focusing on the wrong issues. They point to significant investments made by the Biden campaign during the 2020 election and the Democratic Party during the 2022 congressional elections, which aimed to address job growth and improve the economy for working families.
To attract more Hispanic voters, Republicans have employed strategies such as increased visibility in working-class neighborhoods, running Spanish-language TV and radio ads, opening Spanish-speaking offices, and emphasizing their ability to improve the lives of Hispanic voters. In Arizona, Republicans have supported legislation aimed at appealing to working-class Hispanics, such as the “Tamale bill” that sought to relax rules around the selling of food made in home kitchens.
Michele Pena’s campaign utilized similar tactics, knocking on hundreds of doors in working-class areas and engaging voters with a message centered around improving schools, lowering prices, and valuing family. Her victory in a district that was expected to be won by Democrats was a significant political upset, highlighting the effectiveness of these strategies in appealing to Hispanic voters.
However, Democrats argue that Pena’s victory was due to a political tactic known as the “single shot,” where only one Republican candidate runs in a district with two seats, increasing the chances of winning one seat instead of losing both. They maintain that their campaign efforts have been comparable, focusing on addressing issues such as reducing homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, increasing mental health resources, and criminal justice reform.
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, the dynamics are expected to be different. Matt Barreto, the lead Latino pollster for the 2020 Biden campaign, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic limited campaign activities in 2020, with Democrats refraining from door-to-door campaigning and opening offices in Hispanic neighborhoods, unlike Republicans. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesperson, emphasized that Trump would prioritize issues important to Hispanic voters, including the economy, crime, and the southern border.
While many Hispanics find Trump’s rhetoric offensive and vote for the Democratic Party, the Reuters interviews with a dozen Hispanic voters in Yuma County revealed that none of them considered Trump’s rhetoric about illegal Mexican immigrants as racist or xenophobic. Instead, their concerns primarily revolved around high prices, which they attributed to Biden. Several expressed support for a border wall and a desire to keep out illegal immigrants.
The shift in Hispanic voter allegiance to Trump and Republicans highlights the need for Democrats to address economic concerns and actively engage with Hispanic communities beyond election cycles. Analysts warn that taking Hispanic support for granted could have significant consequences for the Democratic Party’s electoral prospects in key swing states.