Opinion ‘Voters of color’ are shifting in complicated ways
March 21, 2023 at 7:00 a.m. EDT
“The 2020 and 2022 election results have led Republicans, the news media and even some Democrats to suggest that we are seeing a major shift in American politics. Asian, Black and Latino voters have flipped to the Republicans in such large numbers that the Democrats are in huge trouble, the story goes. The GOP could become the party of a “multiracial working class.”
Not quite. Asian American, Black and Latino voters have shifted to the right over the past decade. That should delight Republican Party officials and worry Democratic ones. At the same time, voters of color have favored Democrats by more than 35 percentage points in every recent election. The news media and others who analyze politics shouldn’t emphasize the rightward shift so much that they obscure that these voting blocs remain very Democratic-leaning.
Here’s what is really going on with voters of color:
Most Asian, Black and Latino voters back Democrats
Asian, Black and Latino Americans combined in 2020 to vote around 73 percent for Joe Biden, compared to 25 percent for then-President Donald Trump, according to the political data firm Catalist. If only those three groups voted, Democrats would likely have won every single state. Democrats also overwhelmingly won among those three groups combined in 2022.
U.S. politics remains a contest between a Republican Party that is much more non-Hispanic White (about 85 percent) than the Democratic Party (about 60 percent White) and the country overall (also about 60 percent White).
Yet Biden’s 2020 margin was a notable decline from President Barack Obama’s in 2012, when those three groups chose the Democratic incumbent over Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a combined 81 to 17 percent. And because U.S. national elections are so close, small shifts matter.
Latinos becoming more Republican is the big story
The electoral trajectories of Asian, Black and Latino voters are not the same.
Black voters. Before 2008, between 85 and 90 percent of Black voters usually backed the Democratic presidential candidate. That support increased to around 95 percent in 2008 and 2012, likely because some Black Republicans and Black people who don’t usually vote embraced Obama. Black support for Democrats is now back to pre-2008 levels.
The Obama-era uptick among Black voters, who are about 11 percent of the electorate, was helpful for Democrats. But with such high levels of overall support, it’s hard to argue that there is dissatisfaction among Black voters with the Democratic Party.
Asian voters. Because Asians are a small percentage of voters (around 4 percent), their slight rightward shift hasn’t altered national election results too much. Also, there is nothing new about some Asians being open to voting Republican. They were about equally split between the two parties in the 1990s.
Latino voters. Latinos are about 10 percent of the electorate and an even larger bloc in states such as Florida and Nevada. If Latinos were shifting to the left, Democrats wouldn’t be struggling to eke out wins in Arizona and Nevada and would be more competitive in Florida and Texas.
The Latino vote has never been overwhelmingly Democratic. George W. Bush won about the same percentage of the Latino vote in his presidential campaigns as Trump did in 2020.
But Latinos’ shift to the right has been surprising. Democrats over the past decade have pushed more lenient immigration policies in part to appeal to Latino voters. Meanwhile, Republicans have abandoned Bush’s pro-immigrant posture in favor of “build the wall” Trump-style politics. Most political observers, myself included, didn’t expect Latino voters to be so accepting of this version of the Republican Party.
The voters becoming Republicans are a mix
Among White voters, there has been a clear pattern: Those with four-year college degrees and more liberal attitudes on issues such as immigration are becoming Democrats; those without degrees who are more conservative on issues of identity and race are becoming Republicans. There is also a huge religious divide — White people who aren’t Christians are much more likely to be Democrats.
Among voters of color, it’s not really an education story — Democrats are losing ground among those with four-year degrees and without them.
There is a big ideological component. Asian, Black and Latino Americans (along with White people) who describe themselves as conservative were significantly more likely to back Trump in 2020, compared with 2016, according to researchfrom political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch and Lynn Vavreck. Racial issues are a part of this conservatism — Republicans are winning voters of color who are more skeptical of, say, the Black Lives Matter movement.
And there are important divides within each racial and ethnic group. Black women are still backing Democrats at near Obama-era levels, while 10 to 15 percent of Black men are now supporting Republicans.
Among Latino voters, a big divide is religion. Latinos who are Catholic or who aren’t religious are much more Democratic-leaning than Latino Protestants are. Another divide is geography. Latinos in some states (Florida and Texas for example) are more conservative than in others (California).
Asian Americans who describe themselves as “born-again” Christians are more Republican than those who don’t.
Overall, the good news for Republicans is that the United States’ growing Asian and Latino populations are not voting overwhelmingly Democratic the way Black people do. So they are not creating a voters-of-color colossus that flips states like Texas and ensures perpetual Democratic victories. That was a doomsday scenario for Republicans that a few years ago seemed like a real possibility.
The good news for Democrats is that the clear majority of Asian, Black and Latino voters are still backing them, lifting the party to victories in states such as Georgia and Virginia where White voters are mostly Republicans. The increasing racial and ethnic diversity of the country has been an electoral boon for Democrats — just less of one than was expected.
The big question is what happens next. Have all of the Asian, Black and Latino voters who were open to backing Republicans already shifted — or could the Democratic margin among these voters further decline next year? Alternatively, could Democrats win back some lost ground among these groups?
I am not sure — and I am not sure anyone else is either. The move to the right among voters of color shows that demographics are not destiny. But their strong Democratic tilt shows that demographics still matter.
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