A key storyline from the 2020 election was the rightward swing of Latino voters, who backed former President Donald Trump more than they had four years earlier. Although about 3 in 5 Latinos voted for President Joe Biden, it still represented a drop in Democratic support from 2016 when about 2 in 3 supported Hillary Clinton. With November rapidly approaching, the results of a number of races in the 2022 midterm elections could depend on whether Democrats continue to lose ground among Latino voters.
Nowhere is this more true than in Arizona and Nevada, two states with large Latino populations and hard-fought races for the US Senate and governor. Exit polls from 2020 and other polling data suggest that Latinos will make up about 20 percent of voters in both states by 2022. It is important to remember that Latino voters are not a single voting bloc as they have diverse views and backgrounds. Still, they will help decide control of the Senate and key swing-state governorships, and recent polls are providing mixed signals about how broadly blue or red these voters might turn.
In early September, Emerson College examined the Senate and gubernatorial elections in both states and found extremely close races across the board among likely voters. In Arizona, Emerson found Democratic Senator Mark Kelly just 2 percentage points ahead of Republican Blake Masters, 47 percent to 45 percent, while Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake tied in the gubernatorial contest at 46 percent. In Nevada, the pollster’s poll sponsored by KLAS-TV and The Hill found Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto behind former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt by 1 point, 42 percent to 41 percent, while the Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and Clark County Republican Sheriff Joe Lombardo were tied at 40 percent.
In all races, however, the Democratic nominee led among Latino voters: Kelly had an 11-point lead and Hobbs had a 12-point lead, while Cortez Masto led by 19 points and Sisolak by 16 points. As with most surveys, sample sizes for Latinos in Emerson’s surveys were not very large, meaning these data points have a greater margin of error. Still, they provide some much-needed information on what’s going on among Latino voters in these two key states. And given the tight overall margins, the data also shows how reduced Democratic support among Latinos could make or break their chances.
Emerson’s findings suggest that Latino Democrats are in a worse position now than they were in 2020, when Biden carried 61 percent of Latino voters in Arizona and Nevada, according to the 2020 Exit polls. Exit polls are imperfect measures, but they also found that Kelly won 65 to 35 percent in his narrow 2020 special election victory among Latinos. By comparison, Emerson’s poll gave Kelly a 53 percent to 41 percent advantage among Latinos — a far smaller advantage than in 2020. The Nevada poll gave Democrats a bigger lead on the margin but also gave the overall Support for Cortez Masto and Sisolak among Latinos in their mid-40s, with a large proportion of undecided. If these undecideds were split evenly for the most part, Democrats would come in at similar levels to the 2020 exit polls, but that’s impossible to say at this point.
You should never take a single poll as gospel, and other recent polls have found that Democrats fare slightly better among Latinos. A poll conducted in mid-August by Beacon Research/Shaw & Company Research for Fox News in Arizona found that Kelly has an 8-point overall lead among registered voters and Hobbs has a 3-point lead. Among Latinos, Hobbs led by 9 points — similar to Emerson’s finding — but Kelly had a 20-point lead, 53 percent to 33 percent. Though the Fox News poll had a higher proportion of undecided Latino voters than the Emerson poll, Kelly’s lead wasn’t far from the kind of lead Biden enjoyed in 2020 (although compared to Kelly’s own lead in still below average in 2020).
In Nevada, a mid-August Suffolk University/Reno Gazette-Journal poll gave Cortez Masto a 7-point lead overall among likely voters, 45 percent to 38 percent, and Sisolak a 3-point lead, 43 percent to 40 percent. They each led among Latinos, with Cortez Masto leading 48-30 percent and Sisolak 47-31 percent. That lead, with a smaller proportion of undecided, was comparatively larger than the lead for Democrats in Emerson’s poll.
While we don’t have data for Latino voters from every survey of these races, the overall electoral situation for these Democratic candidates is at least a little favorable right now – if far from certain. Kelly has an 8-point lead on FiveThirtyEight poll averages, and the FiveThirtyEight 2022 midterm election prediction sees Kelly as the favorite, while Hobbs has a slimmer 3-point lead in the Arizona gubernatorial race. In Nevada, Cortez Masto has a 3-point lead and Sisolak has a 2-point lead, and our prediction makes each of them easy favorites.
But the economy remains an opportunity for Republicans to gain a foothold with Latino voters. In Emerson’s polls in Arizona and Nevada, a significant number of likely voters named the economy as the most important issue for their vote (36 percent in Arizona, 42 percent in Nevada), including a large number of Latino voters. Among all voters who named the economy (not just Latinos), the Republican candidates received 62 to 67 percent of the vote. And while it’s a national poll, the poll released last week by Siena College/The New York Times also found registered Latino voters divided over which party they aligned more with on economic issues.
But the second most-cited issue in Emerson’s Arizona and Nevada polls was access to abortion (16 percent in Arizona, 18 percent in Nevada), and voters who identified this as the key issue determining their vote almost unanimously backed the Democrats candidates. Abortion is also an important issue for Latinos, and a recent national poll conducted by BSP Research/UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota found that 59 percent of Latino voters thought Democrats would address abortion better, compared to just 11 percent, who thought Republicans would do this.
This tension between economic concerns and abortion rights may be particularly important for Latino voters, since a large number of them are persuasive voters. That’s because many don’t have strong ties to the two major political parties, often because they’re first-generation Americans or had first-generation parents who weren’t as politically involved and didn’t pass on their partisan views. In a 2020 autopsy, Latino-focused Equis Research found that approval of Trump’s economic policies was a key reason behind Republican gains among Latino voters. But it’s possible that abortion policy headwinds could prevent Republicans from building on that improvement, as 61 percent of Latinos polled told Siena College/The New York Times that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
While polls in Arizona and Nevada suggest that Democrats could be in a weaker position among Latinos in 2022 than they were in 2020, abortion appears to have fueled the Democratic base and possibly scared off some convincing voters — many of whom are Latinos are – from the GOP. We eagerly await more polls to get a better idea of how Latino voters are shaping up in Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere.