Martinez is the new Martinelli. That’s another way of making a critical political point: Hispanic voters increasingly resemble other immigrant groups, such as Italians.
Yes, Hispanic voters still tend to favor Democrats — at least outside of Florida — but those margins are clearly shrinking. And as native Spanish speakers follow traditional patterns of acclimation and assimilation, they are becoming less conflicted and more comfortable in their American identities.
That’s bad news for the Democrats, many of whom try to consign Latinos to categories such as “disadvantaged minorities” or “people of color.” Their underlying assumption is that these voters would automatically favor liberal policies and maintain party allegiance, as most (but not all) Black voters have done. But that’s not what’s happening.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Democrats have seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with ‘people of color’ and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer,” writes demographer Ruy Teixeira, who studies electoral trends.
“This was a flawed assumption,” he continues. “The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working-class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares, above all, about jobs, the economy and health care.”
“Latinos are more and more becoming swing voters,” adds Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who helped conduct a recent Wall Street Journal survey. “They’re a swing vote that we’re going to have to fight for.”
That Journal report has triggered a temblor of anxiety in Democratic ranks — or at least it should. Asked whether they would vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress in 2022, Latinos were split down the middle, with 37% choosing each side.
Joe Biden beat Donald Trump with Latinos 65 to 32. But when the Journal asked those voters about 2024, only 44% said they’d back Biden for a second term, while 43% preferred Trump. Moreover, the president’s approval rating among Latinos has dropped to 42%, with 54% disapproving.
Why is this happening and what does it mean? Demographer Dante Chinni offers this take for NBC: “The ‘Latino vote’ or the ‘Hispanic vote’ is clearly growing, but as it grows, it may also be changing. Hispanics were once mostly adding to the U.S. population through immigration, but that’s no longer true. Since 2000, most of the nation’s Hispanic population growth has come from births, not immigration.”
As any immigrant group becomes more integrated and less isolated, they simply become more like everyone else. “As the roots of Hispanic and Latino populations grow in the U.S. through generations,” explains Chinni, “it may be that they are less and less following the patterns of ‘the Hispanic and Latino voters’ and increasingly following the patterns of ‘U.S. voters.’”
Assimilation is not the only factor, however. Exiles from Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia, mainly centered in Florida, often fled left-wing regimes and are receptive to GOP charges that Democrats are promoting “socialism.” Moreover, many Latinos are serious Catholics, and don’t share liberal views on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Sizeable numbers are small entrepreneurs who like Republican messages about lower taxes and less regulation.
The evolution of Hispanic immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America, strongly parallels the experience of Italian exiles, who often came from impoverished regions with few educational opportunities. Accordingly, it took Italians an extra generation to catch up with other immigrant groups, but catch up they did. By the 1960s, half were in white-collar jobs, and by 1987, the average Italian American income had exceeded the national average.
The lesson for Democrats is clear: The Martinezes will soon resemble the Martinellis. They won’t be a marginalized minority anymore, but full Americans. And any party that wants their support will have to treat them that way.
Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] Send comments to [email protected]