Their focus on social issues over inflation has alienated ethnic minorities
A monumental political realignment seems to be taking place in the United States. If the polls are to be believed, the Democratic Party is trading away long-standing support from working-class minority voters in favour of the college-educated white electorate. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is becoming increasingly diverse as it wins over voters departing the Democratic coalition.
The most striking shift is happening among Hispanic people. In 2016, Trump won 28% of the Hispanic vote; in 2020, that number jumped up to 38%. Heading into this year’s midterms, recent polls have Republicans on track to win an astonishing 40% or more of the Hispanic vote. Such a swing could decide which party takes control of Congress, as Hispanics make up over a fifth of the voting population in more than a dozen close House races, not to mention two particularly competitive Senate elections.
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Democrats are losing their grip on this key demographic for a number of reasons, including the party’s handling of crime and for going “too far in pushing a woke ideology”, as one poll put it. Most important of all, however, is the economy. When asked if they agree more with Republicans or Democrats on economic issues, Hispanic voters are about evenly split. On top of this, Hispanics say by a two-to-one ratio that economic issues are more important to their vote than social issues. The Democratic Party’s weak standing on the election’s most salient issues — inflation and the economy — has put many Hispanic voters in reach for the Republicans.
Perhaps Democrats could have stopped some of the bleeding had they campaigned on addressing inflation throughout the summer and early autumn. But that’s not what they did. Instead, the Democratic playbook was to highlight social and cultural issues — abortion most of all — and hope that voters wouldn’t think too much about the cost of groceries or gasoline. The failure of this culture-forward strategy is abundantly clear now that inflation is the overriding concern for midterm voters.
The trouble Democrats are having in holding onto Hispanic voters may indicate a broader problem the party is facing with Americans from minority backgrounds. A recent poll shows that 21% of black voters are backing Republican candidates, compared to 12% who supported Trump in 2020. Such an erosion in black support would be fatal for Democrats in races ranging from the Georgia Senate to the Michigan Governor to House districts across the country.
For their part, Republicans have positioned themselves to capitalise on this opening with minority voters by nominating the most diverse slate of candidates in the party’s history. Sixty-seven of the GOP’s House candidates this year are Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or black. While this is still far less than the number of minority candidates nominated by the Democratic Party, it is nevertheless the result of a concerted effort by the GOP to appeal to a more diverse swathe of the electorate.
If the polls are right and we really are experiencing a demographic realignment, this should be seen as a glimmer of hope. Understandably, the Democrats may not take it that way, since the shift will likely be costly for them this year. There are, of course, caveats: the urban/rural divide between the parties is growing, as is the education gap. And it would be naive to think that a single election will solve the country’s racial divisions. But even so, the polls showing a less racially-polarised electorate are a decidedly hopeful sign. If Americans want their country to be less divided by race, the political parties are not a bad place to start.