Opinion: The role race plays in Latino voting

Editor’s note: Justin Gest is an Associate Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Politics and Government. He is the author of six books on the politics of immigration and demographic change, the last of which is “The Majority of the Minority”. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


“What is your race or background?”

That question, as asked by the US Census Bureau every 10 years, seems simple. But it’s not easy for many people, including Latinos, who come from a variety of family backgrounds that don’t always fit neatly into America’s racial categories. Ahead of the 2022 term, their responses are signaling a broader political shift within America’s largest ethnic minority.

Long reliable Democrats, Hispanic Americans have shown in polls that they often feel conflicted about America’s two political parties, making them a valuable swing district carved out by Democrats and Republicans.

According to new analysis from the Axios/Ipsos US Latino series, Latinos with strong party preferences still break by a 2-to-1 margin for Democrats, but the largest share of Latinos — more than four in ten — now say they are not represented by a party. they like people, or they’re not sure who to support.

Among these undecideds, Latinos’ policy preferences break down along color lines, revealing the way intractable racial boundaries continue to define American lives and thereby help explain their political preferences.

Latinos who emphasize their white identity identify as conservative Republicans and oppose redistributive welfare policies. Meanwhile, black and mixed Latinos are nearly twice as likely as white Latinos or Latinos to avoid voting for a race because they feel neither party represents people like them.

Race has always been a complicated issue in Latin America, where European colonial policies created distinctions between African, indigenous, and European-descended subgroups, not unlike the United States.

But Americans – and American demographers – have been distracted by linguistic differences and have historically labeled everyone, monolithically, “Hispanic”. This obscures the complexity of Latino identity, and the way many Latinos bring racial distinctions and sensitivities to the US.

Many Latinos of indigenous or mestizo descent – ​​people who might otherwise identify as “brown” – are naturally reluctant to fit into the traditional black-white binary of US measurements. And it is debated whether those who choose “white” in the polls do so because they consider themselves white or because they use white identity strategically as a sign of assimilation or a defense against discrimination.

Despite how undecided Latinos may vote in the 2022 elections, a look at their issue preferences reveals how Latinos actually rank in America’s permanent categories of color.

Latinos who identify as “white” have subject preferences that mirror those of non-Hispanic whites. White Latinos’ top concerns are crime or gun violence, inflation, and Covid-19, while non-Hispanic whites prioritize inflation, crime or gun violence, and political extremism or polarization. The smaller subgroup of Latinos who identify with two or more races overlaps with whites.

Politically, white Latino respondents see Republicans as stronger than Democrats on economic policy. “Black” and “brown” Latinos believe Democrats are better on the economy.

According to the Ipsos survey, Latinos who identify as “black” have different preferences. While they are also concerned about crime or gun violence, their next top concerns are racial injustice, discrimination, and education — priorities that are generally closer to those of African Americans.

Meanwhile, “brown” Latinos who identify as “other” rank immigration as one of their top issues, tied for inflation and less than 10 points behind crime or gun violence.

The Democratic Party has long seen immigration policy as a key way to garner Latino support, but it’s now a priority for a narrower subset of people — about a quarter of Latinos in the Ipsos survey.

This helps explain why former President Donald Trump and Republicans were not punished for their anti-immigration rhetoric in the 2020 election as much as some observers had hoped. Today, most Latinos say they support the declaration of the policy of Title 42, which was implemented by the Trump administration in the first days of the pandemic and allowed US authorities to turn away migrants at the border without trial to reduce the spread of Covid 19. The policy, which was ended earlier this year by President Joe Biden’s administration, is less popular among Latinos who identify as neither white nor black.

To understand why Latinos differ in these policy priorities, their life experiences are instructive.

“Brown” Latinos who avoided identifying with mainstream racial groups were more likely than any other group to be asked if someone was “illegal” or “undocumented.” More than half of this subgroup say that people have asked them if they speak English before starting a conversation and a similar share have been asked what country they are from, significantly more than any other group.

A majority of black and mixed Latinos have been exposed to racist comments and have been found to be laughed at for having a Hispanic or Latino accent, significantly more than white Latinos.

Meanwhile, Latinos who emphasize their Latino identity and those with a college education are less likely to be categorized as white. Those with higher incomes are more likely to do so.

As white Latinos move away from their immigrant origins and experience American society more like non-Hispanic whites, with fewer encounters with discrimination or microaggressions, their politics may align with the ideological leanings of white Americans. And since they make up 60% of all US-born Hispanics, their evolution will change the broader Latino vote.

Taken together, these trends extend the racialization of American public affairs. In an era defined by culture wars and identity politics, Hispanics—a dynamic group that has always clumsily fit into America’s reductive racial categories—are demonstrating the continuing power of those colonial boundaries and their absorption into the mega-identities that Democrats and Republicans embody today. .

We will begin to transcend our divisions by recognizing the ways in which people of all racial identities share a common devotion to the American project, a common struggle to achieve the American dream. But in its tendency to sort voters into established coalitions, the American political process is hardly a bridge.