The move by many voters of Latino origin away from Democratic candidates and toward Republicans seems to have caught Democratic politicians by surprise. Only in the final month of the Biden campaign did the candidate reach out. in a major way, to Latino voters, and the final month of any campaign is usually much too late. Pollsters, too, appear not to have gauged accurately the sentiments of Latino voters.
None of this is uncommon in a campaign. no matter how much data a campaign has, it is all of it taken rom, previous campaigns, and every new campaign is, well, new. The stability of American voting patterns over 50, 100, even 200 years is palpable; yet within the overall stability, shifts do take place, none more so than among the voting preferences of immigrants. Immigrants are by the very nature of their arrival, not in stability. By coming here from far away and another culture, they are making a complete break with it. How they vote can only be as in flux as their immigration.
Arrival, finding a place to live, then to work, learning the language, becoming a citizen — all of these involve radical changes in an immigrant’s life. What an immigrant feels about American politics comes at her fast. A person born here has twenty-one years, or more, to adjust to voting, usually taken from his parents. For an immigrant, that isn’t the case. She has neither the years nor American parents to learn our politics from. Immigrant voters don’t become Republican or Democrat because their parents were that. All of which makes it no surprise that immigrant voters change their preferences much more likely than voters born here.
The one universal that I can assert about immigrant voters — and their children when they, too, become voters — is that they want to become entirely American. more American, even, than born here Americans. We tend to take being American for granted; after all, what else are we ? For immigrants, however, being American is a goal, a destination to be worked toward. This is likely why so many Americans of Italian, Quebecois, Irish, and Eastern European origin have become rigidly Republican in the age of Trump. He embraces the flag, the patriotic songs, the America first outcry — heady indoctrination for the children and grandchildren of immigrants once despised as alien.
The same social political impulses affect Latino immigrants as well. How not ?
Immigrants also have a very different experience of poverty than those born here. Public assistance has been difficult to get, because of language and of unfamiliarity with our bureaucracy; and of course for immigrants who arrived undocumented, public assistance has been impossible. Thus immigrant voters, once they get past the survival stage, mostly on their own, with help only from within their particular immigrant community, naturally look down upon those who have begged for public assistance. They become easy targets for Republican “bootstrap yourself” arguments against public assistance, COVID-19 relief, and stimulus money. After all, say many, if we made it on our own, so should all of you.
AS for this year’s Latino Republicans, reports have it that many were persuaded away from the Democrats by Republican ads about “socialism” — which most Latino immigrants came here to get away from — and by news coverage of BLM riots, many of them explicitly socialist. A Miami newspaper reports that BLM marches there included posters of brutal Castro sidekick Che Guevara and of Christopher Columbus statues defaced with communist graffiti. To say the obvious ; this was hardly a way to get Miami Hispanics to vote for Joe Biden or for Democratic Congresswomen, two of whom were soundly defeated in Miami-Dade County.
As I mentioned at the outset, the Bien campaign was very late to the Latino voter arena, in Florida and Texas especially. So the question is, are Democrats in general now too late ? Is the Texas and Florida Latino vote destined to split 50 – 50 Republican and Democrat ? What are the prospects for Hispanic voting patterns in Arizona, California, and elsewhere ? My answer is that it’s not so much a matter of being late — it is never too late to reverse the outcome of a future election by campaigning smart — but of ( 1 ) basic Latino voter views on the issue that Democrats are committed to and then ( 2 ) the Democratic command, or not, of a particular State’s politics. In a State like Massachusetts, where Democrats control; almost everything, only Democratic Latino politicians have won — so far — and thus have set the tone for Latino voters. We see this in Boston, Springfield, and Lawrence, where only Democrats win, and almost all of them — but NOT all ! — of a progressive bent.
In less Democratic States, such as Texas and Arizona, however, Latino politician scan be found in both parties, and I suspect this will continue, because most Latino voters are much more socially conservative than the justice warriors who command the Democratic party’s upper reaches (and almost all of its money sources). Here, Latino voters mirror the views of prior immigrant waves. The Irish, Italian, Quebec, Polish and Portuguese immigrants whose sons and daughters became the Kennedy family’s political base were very conservative, virulently so in some cases. By no means were they, nor are their grandchildren, progressive as we now understand the term. (I of course am generalizing. Not all such immigrants end up as social conservatives. Many have led the fight for civil rights for all.)
Yet an easy answer is available to Democrats : economic advancement. Democrats should advocate and enact these : the $ 15/hour minimum wage. Economic stimulus payments. Small business loans and grants. Debt-free college attendance. Apprenticeship programs. Rent subsidies. A new GI Bill to make home buying more affordable.
Economic agendas assured Democrats of a solid majority among prior immigrant voter communities. Why not Latino voters ? If Democrats do not fatten the family budgets of Latino voters, all that’s left is for them to brood about their social values being rejected. That is an open invitation to Republican nativism, as amoral an appeal as any we’ve endured in the entire 230 years of our Federal existence.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere