Updated Oct 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats need Black and Latino vote to win tight midterm elections

Illustration of a blue donkey with the shadows of two people on either side of it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats are publicly and privately growing more concerned about their soft support from Black and Latino men, fearing that any marginal move by voters of color toward the GOP — or low turnout — will be decisive in the midterms.

Why it matters: With Republican candidates banking on big margins among white voters, Democrats need to run up the score with Black and Latino voters to win tight Senate and governor's races in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

The big picture: Strategists from both parties are closely watching whether Republicans can replicate — or even improve on — President Trump’s 2020 numbers with Latino and Black voters, when he increased his voting share in both groups (though he lost them decisively overall).

By the numbers ... Exit polls show that in 2020, Biden won:

  • 87% of Black voters, compared to 12% for Trump (margin of 75%)
  • 65% of Latino voters, compared to 32% for Trump (margin of 33%)

But behind those resounding topline figures were warning signs for Democrats: Trump increased his share of Latino and Black voters from 2016 by four points each. Polling from this year's cycle suggests that trend could be accelerating.

  • 78% of Black voters support the generic Democratic ballot, with 10% for Republicans — a 68-point lead, according to September's "Blacktrack" survey from HIT Strategies, a minority-owned public opinion research firm.
  • 54% percent of Latino voters want Democrats to take control of Congress, compared to 33% who prefer Republicans — a 21-point lead, according to an October NBC poll.

What they're saying: "Latinos are in Jell-O," said Carlos Odio, co-founder of Equis Labs, which analyzes Latino voting trends. "Political operatives have done the math and they know they need to compete for voters."

  • "You have Black men and Brown men who are open to shopping at this point,” said Cyrus Garrett, who served as the African American political director for the Democratic National Committee. "We are open to being transactional."
  • "Don't just presume that voters of color are a turnout universe," said Bill Burton, a former Obama official. "We have to treat them as a persuasion universe."
  • "There's a lot of work to be done with voters of color, especially with men because they weren’t as moved by the Dobbs decision," he added, referring to the Supreme Court abortion rights ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

What we're watching: In Nevada, where Pew estimates Latino voters will make up 21% of the electorate, vulnerable Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto will need to pad her margins with Latino voters to counter GOP support among non-college-educated white voters.

  • "To fend off Republican challenges, we calculate Democrats need 66% of Latinos," said Odio. "But now you see polling in the low 60s and even the 50s, which is below historic levels."
  • "The group can certainly swing but if you focus on what matters — work, paychecks and opportunities — Democrats can win Latinos," said Dan Sena, who served as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2018.
  • "If a campaign fails to meet them where they are, they are much more likely to move away from the Dems," he said, "especially in challenging economic times and in places with higher crime rates."

Between the lines: There's been a lot of focus on the gender divide among Black voters — especially in the Georgia governor's race, in which Democrat Stacey Abrams has proclaimed, "If Black men vote for me, we win." But the more pronounced trend falls along generational lines.

  • Black women favor Democrats by a margin of seven points more than Black men, according to the latest BlackTrack poll. But Black voters over 50 favor Democrats by a 26-point margin compared to their younger counterparts.
  • "While the gender gap among Black men and Black women is concerning, it's the generation gap between younger Black voters and older Black voters that could determine the outcome of midterm elections,” said Terrance Woodbury, the co-founder of HIT Strategies, who consults with White House officials on his polling.

The other side: With Latino voters expanding their share of the electorate, Democrats can still win with a lower overall percentage because their total vote keeps growing.

  • Simon Rosenberg, president of New Democrat Network, gave a detailed presentation Wednesday walking through what the gross numbers actually mean for Democrats.
  • Democrats increased their total margins among Latino voters by 5.4 million in 2020, compared to 4.8 million in 2016.
  • "A slightly smaller piece of a much bigger pie is still a lot more pie," he said.

Go deeper: Democrats and Republicans aren't cutting it for Latinos, poll finds

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information throughout.

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