May 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

How working-class Latino voters could upend Democrats in 2024

Farmer Jose Esquivel herds cattle in preparation for a cattle auction on June 28, 2023 in Quemado, Texas.

Farmer Jose Esquivel herds cattle in preparation for a cattle auction on June 28, 2023 in Quemado, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The decades-long exodus of white working-class voters from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party has a new jolt: Latino working-class voters are joining the shift.

Why it matters: To win key swing states, President Biden needs the support of some dissatisfied white, Latino and Black working-class voters who polls suggest are upset about inflation and some Democratic policies.

The big picture: Six swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are widely expected to decide the Biden-Trump rematch.

  • Voters without a college education will be key players in each state.
  • Working-class voters also could tip tight Senate and House races in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Montana, Texas and Maryland at a time when both chambers have narrow majorities.

State of play: Biden's poll numbers have been rising lately, but several surveys have indicated he is underperforming with non-white voters without college degrees — a constituency that has long been overwhelmingly Democratic.

  • A YouGov poll commissioned by the Progressive Policy Institute at the end of 2023 found that working-class voters overwhelmingly believe they're worse off today than similar voters did 40 years ago.
  • Voters said they trusted the GOP more than Democrats on the economy, immigration, and education — a dramatic shift from past elections.

Zoom in: Among Latinos, Republicans also now have an edge over Democrats when it comes to dealing with the economy, according to an April Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll in partnership with Noticias Telemundo.

Between the lines: GOP consultant Mike Madrid tells Axios the political shift among working-class Latino and Black voters has accelerated in recent elections because they see Democrats as out of touch with their way of life.

  • These voter blocs are upset with Democrats' focusing on EVs while moving to phase out fossil fuels, which many see as endangering high-paying oil worker jobs, he said.
  • Democrats' push to forgive college students' loans also is unpopular with some working-class voters who want more focus on making food and housing more affordable, Madrid said.
  • "These are the new Reagan Democrats. They're at the country music festivals, not the country clubs," he said.

Flashback: The shift among white working-class voters began in the 1960s, when anti-Vietnam War protests pushed some to support Republican Richard Nixon, said William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

  • Galston said Republicans since have made gains with white working-class voters, once the bedrock of the New Deal coalition, in almost every election.
  • Any significant defection by working-class Latinos could be devastating for Democrats, he said.
  • "I would call this the political story of my lifetime," Galston said.

Reality check: Democrats still are widely expected to win more votes from working-class Black and Latino voters than Republicans. It's the margins that are shrinking.

  • The GOP gains among Latino and Black working-class voters are happening without Republicans doing much to attract them, aside from focusing on religious, cultural issues, Madrid and Galston said.

What we're watching: Democrats are doubling down on abortion rights in the wake of a Republican-led reversal of Roe v. Wade, which would sway many Latino working-class voters who are strongly pro-choice.

  • A surge in spending by unions on behalf of Democrats also could stop the bleeding, Galston said.
  • The Service Employees International Union, representing about 2 million health care, property service, and government workers, announced in March it would spend $200 million to help Biden and Democrats in crucial states, the Washington Post reported.
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