High inflation, high-profile Latino candidates, and recent polls suggest opportunities for the Republican Party to expand its share of the Latino vote, but in a series of conversations with leaders of both parties no one was predicting a major change in voting patterns in Connecticut for the midterm elections.
According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Latino voters nationwide said they planned to vote for their district’s Democratic candidate for House of Representatives and 28 percent said they planned to vote for their district’s Republican candidate in the 2022 elections.
The Pew Research Center survey found that 80 percent of Latino voters said that the economy was a critical factor in deciding who they would vote for in the 2022 midterms, making it the top issue, followed by healthcare, education, violent crime and gun policy.
In a New York Times poll, just over half of Latino voters said the economy was the most important issue for determining how they would vote, and a quarter said that “societal issues” like guns and abortion, were most important.
Beth Ginsberg, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut whose research focuses in part on Latino voting behaviors, said she didn’t expect to see much change in the overall split of Latino votes in the November election, but that more Latino voters were casting ballots – and that has people paying more attention attention to their votes.
“For the longest time, Latinos weren’t as highly educated or higher income as other groups, so they had lower turnout,” Ginsberg said. “As Latinos have become more educated, as Latinos have become wealthier, they’ve had higher levels of turnout as well.”
2020 census data shows that 18.7 percent of Connecticut residents identify as Hispanic – a 30 percent increase when compared to the 2010 census.
Ginsburg said she doesn’t expect the percentage of Latinos voting Democratic versus Republican — traditionally a 60-40 split, she said — to change much. But Ginsberg did say that outreach to the Latino community would be key for all the candidates in the November elections, in order to get as many votes as possible.
“There is significant research that shows that Latinos are very affected by who’s talking to them and who’s reaching out. So outreach is key to getting the turnout. People want to know that you care and that you’re not taking their vote for granted,” she said. “Outreach to Latinos in the United States is more than just saying ‘Hola, como está?’ … You need more than a Latino website. You need to actually be present, and be involved.”
Felix Reyes, director of economic development in New London, said the Latino community in New London has traditionally voted Democratic, and he doesn’t anticipate that changing in the coming election. But he did say that he felt the Democratic party needed to spend more time reaching out to young people. He said he felt both parties failed to grasp the culture and the family dynamics that characterize the Latino community.
“I think that’s what’s really special about the Latin vote is that, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, they’re not a hundred percent all in,” he said. “I think they still hold to their moral and cultural ground when they make decisions. So I think that’s why you see more moderate Democrats from the Hispanic community, and the same thing on the right side.”
Reyes also said he wasn’t sure about how the turnout would be for this election — in New London, he said, turnout in years that weren’t presidential elections tended to be low. He said he believed that for Latino voters to come out to the polls, there needed to be more candidates from the Latino community on the ballot.
“If you look at the representation, I think it’s like one percent Hispanic representation,” he said. “They need to see more of themselves holding those positions.”
Ginsberg said her research agreed with this.
“A Cuban is more likely to vote for a Cuban candidate than, say, a Mexican candidate. However, if the only candidates on the ballot are a Mexican and somebody else, they’ll vote for a fellow Latino over other people. If the only candidates are a black person and a white person, they’ll vote for a black person. So they are very tied to who the candidate is and to the outreach,” she said.
Ruben Rodriguez, who is chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the Republican Hispanic National Assembly, told CT Examiner he believed that opening an office in New Britain last year had helped raise awareness among Latino voters of the Republican party’s presence and their goals.
“It’s unbelievable how you could hear people say, ‘I voted Democrat because you guys never came to us.’” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said his organization was keeping an eye on two races in particular: Leora Levy, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and George Logan, who is running to unseat Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s fifth district.
Levy is Cuban and Logan is Jamaican and Guatemalan. The Logan-Hayes race has been rated as a “toss-up” by Politico.
Rodriguez said that Dominic Rapini, the Republican party’s candidate for the Secretary of the State, is also on their radar. He said Rapini has spent a lot of time reaching out to the Latino community.
Rodriguez said he believed inflation was the biggest concern for Latinos, and the failure of the government on the state and federal level to address the problem.
“One of the biggest things that people are looking at right now is, like, ‘Wow. Two years ago I had money that I could use for feeding my family. Now I have to think if I have to pay the bill or put food on my table,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez also said that he’d heard people say it had been difficult to get jobs — while there are many job openings, he said, employers are interviewing “hundreds” of candidates, and people will go for an interview and never hear back.
State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, Waterbury Democrat who chairs the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, also said the economy is a big issue this election.
“A lot of our voters do live paycheck to paycheck — myself included,” he said. “We’d be foolish to think that the economy is not a major issue. It absolutely is.”
Reyes said that he had worked to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and inflation and the rising cost of goods was taking a chunk out of that increased pay.
Rodriguez and Geraldo Reyes both said they were hearing voters express dissatisfaction with the Biden administration’s immigration policies, but for different reasons.
Reyes said most of the people he’d spoken with feel that the Biden administration has not done enough to fix the current immigration system to allow immigrants into the country.
“It’s almost like he has done nothing. Which is very disappointing,” said Reyes. “You just can’t keep saying the system’s broken, blame Trump and then do nothing for two years. And that’s kind of the feeling [of] a lot of the undocumented immigrants and immigrants that are here with paperwork — legally. Because the sooner we fix it, the sooner they can probably bring [in] more of their relatives legally.”
Rodriguez, on the other hand, said that he heard people express frustration that more people were coming into the country when the country wasn’t addressing the homelessness that was already present.
“I’m hearing, ‘Why haven’t they controlled what’s coming in from the border, knowing that we have homeless people out there now — veterans, people, families are losing their jobs,’” he said. “‘And with the inflation going on right now, even people not able to feed their family. Now we have to feed people coming in because we can’t leave them hungry.’”
Geraldo Reyes said that healthcare was one of the biggest concerns he was hearing about from voters in the state, including the issue of abortion. He said that the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade had brought what had previously been a privately-held belief into the public discussion.
“Historically over time, the abortion issue was more unspoken. Everybody had their values and their morals… And what I’m seeing in the last year since Roe versus Wade was overturned, now I’m seeing a lot of Latinos actually being more vocal one way or the other,” he said.
“I think that people underestimate the value that some people have when it comes to that decision. It’s a very difficult decision – Pro-life, Pro-choice,” said Reyes.
But Reyes said he didn’t believe that abortion would be a key factor to swing the midterms in Connecticut, a point that Rodriguez and Ginsberg both agreed on.