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Beneath Gavin Newsom’s victory is a Latino voter trend that should worry Democrats

Democrats are slowly shedding Latino voters, and that could pose a problem in 2022 and 2024

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Thursday 16 September 2021 09:18 BST
APTOPIX California Recall Newsom
APTOPIX California Recall Newsom (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

California Republicans’ months-long, incredibly expensive temper tantrum attempt to unseat Gavin Newsom as governor ended exactly how people could expect it in an overwhelmingly Democratic state: with a humiliating defeat.

The party that supposedly swears by fiscal conservatism and limited government cost the state of California $276 million and wasted everyone’s time. As I wrote earlier in the week, Republican voters in the state did themselves in by coalescing around an unelectable candidate like talk radio host Larry Elder rather than a more electable candidate like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. This gave Newsom something to run against, rather than simply having to defend his record.

But beneath the favorable outcome for Newsom, the fact still remains that Democrats haven’t fixed their longstanding problem with Latino voters, which could pose trouble for them further down the line.

According to exit polls, 58 percent of Latino voted now against the recall, who made up a quarter of the electorate. While that was certainly a majority, it’s down from the 64 percent that Newsom won when he was first elected governor in 2018.

The breakdown is even starker when accounting for gender. While 62 percent of Latinas voted against the recall, 53 percent of Latino men voted against it. That’s an 8-point slip from the 61 percent of Latino men who voted for Newsom back in 2018.

If California Republicans can ever get their act together and have a narrow focus on jobs, the economy and law enforcement, Latino men could wind up becoming a swing vote in California, as they have been in other places.

This continues the trend that Democrats saw in the 2020 presidential election, where Democrats lost ground with Latino voters across the board. Much of the focus on Democrats’ decline with Latinos was focused on the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and South Florida, where the large Venezuelan and Cuban communities oppose anything that even hints at socialism, but Trump and Republicans gained with Latinos across the board.

This was also the case in Latino communities across the country, including heavily Latino Imperial County, which borders Mexico, where 61 percent of voters backed Joe Biden but also where Donald Trump gained 17 points from 2020. That was the same margin that voted ‘no’ on the recall.

I see this even in the places of my youth. A detailed breakdown by The New York Times showed that parts of Chino Hills, the town where I grew up — where there are about equal parts Hispanic and non-Hispanic white people, and roughly 46.7 percent of people have a bachelor’s degree or higher — swung by as much as 36 points to the Democrats between 2016 and 2020.

Conversely, neighboring Chino, my maternal family’s ancestral hometown, is 51 percent Hispanic or Latino and only 23 percent of people have a bachelor’s degree or higher. And while it mostly stayed Democratic, some parts swung toward Donald Trump by as much as 10 or even 20 points.

There are, of course, limits to what can be gleaned from exit polls. Case in point: There is no breakdown of individual nonwhite racial groups by education, when education levels can be an important indicator of how someone will vote. A majority of white men and women without college degrees both voted against the recall, whereas the nonwhite option was only a category labeled “voters of color with no degree,” which doesn’t give a glimpse into how Latinos vote (especially since many Latinos don’t identify as people of color).

Furthermore, in an overwhelmingly Democratic state like California, where roughly only a quarter of the state’s registered voters are Republicans, there is only so much room for Republicans to grow. But Democrats would be wise to heed the warnings before a critical race.

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