(The Hill) – President Biden has been mired in a series of disappointing polls, but recent polls suggest he’s particularly struggling to retain support among Hispanic voters.
A Quinnipiac University poll released this week found just 26% of Hispanic voters polled approved of Biden’s job performance, the lowest rating of any demographic group.
A drastic drop in support among Hispanic voters could portend a disastrous midterm election for Biden and the Democrats, especially after that bloc appeared to sour on Biden in states such as Texas and Florida while propelling him to victory in key battlegrounds such as Arizona and Georgia in 2020. .
And while Biden’s approval numbers may not directly correlate with support for Democratic or Republican candidates in November, Democratic voters weak on the president may be less likely to turn out at the polls.
“If Latinos disapprove of the president’s performance, how could that translate to congressional elections in November? This could translate in two ways. This could translate into Latinos choosing to support a non-Democratic candidate – whether it’s a Republican or an independent remains to be seen in the various congressional districts,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at the Pew Research Center.
“But the other way it could happen is that Latino voters may not feel motivated to vote,” Lopez added.
The Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed Biden’s approval rating at 33%, marking a low point for the president in that poll. But his approval among Hispanic voters in the poll was even lower, at 26%.
Demographic subgroups such as Hispanics are notoriously difficult to interview in national surveys because language barriers, geographic isolation, and small or poorly weighted sample sizes can skew results.
Still, the poll continued a downward trend for Biden. A university poll released March 30 found Biden’s approval rating at 36%, and 32% of Hispanics surveyed said they approved of Biden’s performance.
“I think a lot of times there’s this narrative in DC among Democrats that you only talk to Latinos about immigration,” John Anzalone, a pollster for Biden, said on a Politico podcast this week. “For example, immigration is the 12th issue that concerns them. Guess what? They’re worried about the same things everyone else is worried about. It’s always about the economy or inflation or health care or schools.
Underscoring Anzalone’s point, the March 30 poll found that 31% of Hispanics surveyed named inflation the most pressing issue facing the country, more than any other issue.
Twelve percent of Hispanics surveyed in that poll cited the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the most pressing issue, and 12 percent said immigration was the most pressing issue.
And while Biden’s low overall popularity means he won’t be an infallible campaign tool to boost sagging Democrats, he’s not on the ballot either.
According to a March report from the Pew Research Center, 50% of Hispanic voters say they lean toward or are certain to vote for the Democratic candidate in their precincts, while 28% say the same of Republican candidates.
That’s roughly consistent with surveys taken before 2018, Lopez said, an indicator that there isn’t a massive shift in Hispanic party affiliation, as some Republicans have claimed.
But Hispanic communities have historically struggled to get to the polls, and a combination of low voter enthusiasm and restrictive new local election laws could reverse recent improvements on that front.
“If Joe Biden continues to have a low approval rating, do people like Republican Latinos really want to get out and vote and Democrat Latinos aren’t showing up at the polls as much as you might have thought?” said Lopez.
“And then it can make the results for Latino voters look like a shift or a move toward Republicans. But we don’t know if it was really that or if it was just a function of people deciding whether to go to the polls or not,” he added.
Biden administration officials have pointed to economic gains for Hispanics and other minority groups to argue that the economic recovery has benefited Americans across demographics, which Biden himself emphasized during a speech in North Carolina Thursday.
“Unlike previous recoveries, this time around with the US bailout, we made the choice to take everyone in,” Biden said, noting that Hispanic unemployment fell in 2021 from nearly 9% to 4.2%, a record pace.
Latino voters are a critical bloc for Biden in particular.
A UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative study of Latino turnout in the 2020 election found that while the majority of Latino voters in Florida’s Miami-Dade County supported former President Trump, Biden won significantly. The Latino vote was decisive in other key areas, including Arizona and Georgia, where those margins likely helped tip states in its favor en route to narrow victories.
And Latinos could play an even bigger role in 2022 than in previous midterms.
While traditionally Latino voters had played an outsized role in a relatively small number of districts – for example, the heavily Democratic districts of downtown Los Angeles or New York – the battleground for Hispanic voters has changed dramatically over the past of the last decade.
In addition to tipping the scales in states like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Latino voters now make up a significant portion of the population in competitive districts across the country.
The redistricting has experts particularly focused on newly created districts in Oregon and Colorado as well as New Mexico’s newly competitive 2nd congressional district.
But as blocs of Hispanic voters grow in competitive precincts, so do candidates who need to contact them early and often.
“There have been more early investments in this cycle than there have been in previous mid-term cycles. Absolutely. More people are putting money into reaching Latinos, Latino voters, than we’ve seen in the past. Is it enough? Is it good enough? No. We need more, obviously. We need a lot more,” said Kristian Ramos, Democratic strategist and founder of Autonomy Strategies.
Many Democrats are sounding the alarm, warning that a significant drop in Latino turnout could sink the party in districts across the country, but they remain skeptical of Republican claims of a massive affiliation shift at the party.
“We have a lot of good things to say about Democrats and a lot of horrible things to say about Republicans. We just have to do it,” Ramos said.
“There is an incredible story to tell Latino voters and we need to tell it. We have this summer, basically, to tell that story,” he added.
But polling numbers show that the growing Latino electorate is tuned into the national conversation and, as usual, is particularly sensitive to kitchen table issues.
Still, experts warn that polling trends are just one data point for measuring the attitudes of an electorate that has shifted politically while growing and expanding nationally.
“I think the story for 2022 remains to be seen, and these national numbers are helpful, but they may not tell the whole story,” Lopez said.