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Democrats are losing Latino voters — that could be pivotal for midterm elections

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Latino voters represent the second largest and fastest-growing group in the U.S. electorate. Recent polls by Pew and Washington Post-Ipsos show a majority of Latino voters plan to support Democrats in next month's midterm elections. But surveys also show that support waning, and that has Democratic strategists sounding an alarm bell. I spoke about this earlier today with Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist who has worked on both of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaigns. Here's our conversation.

Chuck, right before the last presidential election in 2020, you warned that Democrats weren't taking the Latino vote seriously. Do you still think that's the case?

CHUCK ROCHA: I do not. There's still parts of the party apparatus that is still underperforming, in my opinion, on how they are doing their outreach. But it is being mostly overweighted by folks who have taken what happened in the last election, especially in the Senate, that are probably doing more work in Spanish and in the community earlier than I have ever seen them done before. But then on the House side, now that they've had redistricting, there's all these districts that have heavy Latino populations. I see them running the same playbook that they did before, and I think it could actually cost Democrats the House of Representatives.

PFEIFFER: One of the recent polls we mentioned from Washington Post-Ipsos found that Democrats in congressional races have a 27-point advantage with voters who identify as Hispanic. That's a pretty generous margin, but that is a decline compared to a nearly 40-point advantage the party had in 2018. Why do you think Democrats have been losing ground here?

ROCHA: It's a couple of things. One is Republicans used to not compete for this vote. I've been doing this work for over 30 years, Sacha. And up until about eight years ago, Republicans would just walk past a Latino neighborhood. So just them showing up and competing for the vote is a big part. I think it's very important for folks to know Democrats are going to win the Latino vote and Latino voters. But what's happening is we're losing a little support a little at a time to Republicans because they're competing. And Latinos are coming of age quicker than any other demographic. So we're younger. And guess what? Younger voters are more infrequent voters. And to where we are today, they're more apt not to participate in an off-year election, which, again, harms Democrats more than Republicans.

PFEIFFER: Of course, no racial or ethnic group votes in lockstep, and we should expect continued and even growing diversity in the Latino vote. So with all that diversity, how do you advise Democrats in terms of how they need to focus their efforts and their messaging?

ROCHA: I've been telling Democrats we need to get back to the reason that I joined the Democratic Party in 1990, and it was around working-class values, keeping jobs in America. We've lost that narrative and even, I would argue, succumbed some of that argument to people like Donald Trump. Democrats need to get back to really courting a blue-collar worker, which is now, because of the demographic growth of Latinos, a big part of that sector.

PFEIFFER: What about issues like abortion and our dicey economy? How is that changing the political landscape for candidates trying to court the Latino vote?

ROCHA: You see the Dobbs decision being super-duper impactful with women and women of color. But women already were overperforming for Democrats, especially women of color. The real problem with Democrats are the men and the men of color, non-college educated men in particular. And that's where your argument around the economy and jobs - in focus group after focus groups with Latinos this summer, that's what particularly men were talking about, things that they don't feel like Democrats, in their opinion, have been delivering for them even though Joe Biden and the Democrats have probably done more in the last two years than any administration in a two-year period in a long time. So it's very frustrating when the message is not resonating down to the grassroots in many communities.

PFEIFFER: So how worried nationally do you think the party should be about this trend beyond this year's midterms?

ROCHA: There's one fact that is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, and that is that Latino voters will have a dramatic impact on who controls the House and the Senate just because of the concentration of our population in the most marginal seats in America. So Democrats are worried at every level. I'm currently really worried about keeping the House and some of the most important seats - Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida. So stay tuned because there's a reason why there's a lot of worry out there.

PFEIFFER: That's Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha. Thank you.

ROCHA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "SOUR SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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