(The Hill) — President Biden has been mired in a stretch of disappointing polls, but recent surveys suggest he’s having particular trouble keeping the support of Hispanic voters.
A Quinnipiac University poll published this week found that just 26 percent of Hispanic voters surveyed approved of Biden’s job performance, the lowest mark of any demographic group.
A drastic decrease in support among Hispanic voters could foreshadow a disastrous midterm election for Biden and Democrats, particularly after that bloc seemed 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 might not correlate directly to support for Democratic or Republican candidates in November, Democratic voters low on the president could be less likely to show up at the polls.
“If Latinos are disapproving of the president’s performance, how might that translate into the congressional elections in November? That could translate in two ways. It could translate into Latinos choosing to support a non-Democratic candidate — whether that’s a Republican or an independent remains to be seen in the different congressional districts,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew Research Center.
“But the other way that that might happen is that Latino voters may not feel motivated to turn out to vote,” added Lopez.
The Quinnipiac poll published Wednesday showed Biden’s approval rating at 33 percent, marking a low point for the president in that poll. But his approval among Hispanic voters in the poll was even lower, at 26 percent.
Demographic subgroups such as Hispanics are notoriously difficult to poll in national surveys, as language barriers, geographical isolation, and small or incorrectly weighted sample sizes can skew results.
Still, the poll continued a downward trend for Biden. A poll from the university published on March 30 found Biden’s approval rating was at 36 percent, and 32 percent of Hispanics who were surveyed said they approved of Biden’s job performance.
“I think that a lot of time, there’s this narrative in D.C. among Democrats that you only talk to Latinos about immigration,” John Anzalone, a pollster for Biden, said on a Politico podcast this week. “Like, immigration is the 12th issue that they’re concerned about. Guess what? They’re concerned about the same things everyone else is concerned about. It’s always about the economy or inflation or health care or schools.”
Underscoring Anzalone’s point, the March 30 poll found 31 percent of Hispanics surveyed pointed to inflation as the most urgent issue facing the country, more than any other topic.
Twelve percent of Hispanics 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 a surefire campaign tool to boost sagging Democrats, he is also not on the ballot.
According to a March report by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of Hispanic voters say they are leaning toward or certain to vote for the Democratic candidate in their districts, while 28 percent said the same of Republican candidates.
That’s roughly in line with surveys ahead of 2018, according to Lopez, an indicator that there isn’t a massive shift in Hispanic party affiliation, as some Republicans have claimed.
But Hispanic communities have historically been tough to get to the polls, and a combination of low voter enthusiasm and new restrictive local voting laws could reverse recent improvements on that front.
“If Joe Biden continues to have low approval ratings, might it be people such as Republican Latinos really want to get out there and vote and Democratic Latinos may not show up to the polls as much as you might have expected?” said Lopez.
“And then that may make the Latino voter results look like a switch towards or move towards Republicans. But we don’t know if it was really that or if it was just a function of people deciding to turn out to vote or not,” he added.
Biden administration officials have pointed to economic gains for Hispanics and other minority groups to argue the economic recovery has benefitted Americans across demographics, something Biden himself highlighted during a speech in North Carolina on Thursday.
“Unlike the past recoveries, this time around, with the American Rescue Plan, we made a choice to bring everyone along,” Biden said, noting Hispanic unemployment fell in 2021 from nearly 9 percent to 4.2 percent, a record-setting pace.
Latino voters are a critical bloc for Biden in particular.
A UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative study on Latino turnout in the 2020 election found that while a majority of Latino voters in Miami-Dade County in Florida backed former President Trump, Biden decisively won the Latino vote in other key areas, including in Arizona and Georgia, where those margins likely helped tip the states in his favor en route to narrow victories.
And Latinos could play an even greater role in 2022 than in previous midterms.
While traditionally Latino voters had played an outsize role in a relatively small number of districts — for instance, heavily Democratic districts in downtown Los Angeles or New York — the Hispanic voter battlefield has changed drastically over the past decade.
Apart from tipping the balance in states such as Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Latino voters are now a significant part of the population in competitive districts throughout the country.
Redistricting has experts particularly focused on the new districts created in Oregon and Colorado as well as New Mexico’s newly competitive 2nd Congressional District.
But as Hispanic voter blocs grow in competitive districts, so does the need for candidates to reach out to them early and often.
“There have been more early investments this cycle than there have been in previous midterm cycles. Absolutely. More people are putting money towards 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 lots more,” said Kristian Ramos, a Democratic strategist and founder of Autonomy Strategies.
Many Democrats are ringing alarm bells, warning that a significant drop in Latino participation could sink the party in districts all over the country, but they remain skeptical of Republican claims of a massive party shift in party affiliation.
“We have a lot of good things to say about Democrats and a lot of horrible things to say about Republicans. We’ve just got to do it,” Ramos said.
“There’s an incredible story to tell Latino voters and we need to do it. We have this summer, basically, to tell that story,” he added.
But polling numbers do show that the growing Latino electorate is tuned into the national conversation and — as usual — is especially attuned to kitchen-table issues.
Still, experts warn that the polling trends are only one data point to measure attitudes in an electorate that has evolved politically while growing and spreading nationwide.
“I do think that the story for 2022 remains to be seen, and these national numbers are helpful, but they may not tell the whole story,” Lopez said.