Wisconsin midterms: Hispanic, Latino voters could play big role

Latino voters can again play an important role in who wins the midterm election on Nov. 8. They voted strongly for Democrats in the past, but nationwide, Republicans have been making inroads with Latino voters. 

"We’re becoming a big voter block and I would say it's big enough to influence the election here in Wisconsin," said Fabi Maldonado with Voces de la Frontera.

The 2020 U.S. Census found Wisconsin's largest minority group is Hispanics and Latinos, making up roughly 7.5% of the state.

"I think the analysis again suggests that they won the state for Biden, and I think they will potentially have a very significant impact on who wins the governor’s and senate race here," said Paru Shah, associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "Given the size of the electorate, of the Latino electorate, the fact that there are more Latino voters this year than two years ago, I think they can’t be underestimated."

At the Milwaukee Press Club on Wednesday, Oct. 26, experts weighed the importance of Hispanic and Latino voters both two years ago and in this fall's election.

"As we went back and did the deep-dive analysis of Latino turnout in which way they voted, we found here in Wisconsin that it was almost 3-1 – Hispanics voting for Biden, than to Trump," said Darryl Morin, president and chairman of Forward Latino. "That's almost 75% of the Latino voters here voted for Biden over Trump. And when you consider that we had about 120,000 to 130,000 Latinos voting here in the state of Wisconsin, and the fact that the president only carried the state by 20,000 votes, you just realize how important it was to court the Hispanic vote to him winning. And I think both parties learned a lesson after that."

Nationwide in 2020, Donald Trump won a larger percentage of Latino and Hispanic votes than he did in 2016, but it wasn't enough to win the White House.

"I think that the Latino power, the Latino vote, is gaining power. And you saw it in the 2020 election. You saw Latinos flip the state of Arizona blue for the first time since 1996," said Maldonado.

A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll found Latino support for Democrats shrunk since 2018, when Democrats had a 40-point lead. This year, the poll found Latinos favor Democrats by 27 points. 

It also finds Latinos prefer Democrats on many issues, but on rising prices, the number one concern according to the poll, Latino registered voters prefer Republicans, with 30% saying they trust Democrats to do a better job, while 33% said the same of Republicans. The largest percentage, 36%, said they trust neither party to do a better job on rising prices.

When Latino voters were asked what is their single most important issue as they vote for Congress, the Washington Post-Ipsos poll found these percentages:

  • Rising prices 31%
  • Abortion 20%
  • Gun violence 10%
  • Climate change 8%
  • Health care 7%
  • Crime 5%
  • Immigration 5%
  • Racial discrimination 3%
  • Public schools 3%
  • Availability of jobs 2%
  • Something else 5%

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In September, the Pew Research Center found found the most important issue for Latino voters was the economy, followed by health care, violent crime, education and gun policy.

"By and large, Latinos have voted for the Democratic Party, and continue to do so. I do think that they don't fit any categories as cleanly as other groups, potentially," added Shah. "They are not a monolith, a lot of different languages spoken, backgrounds, activity, immigration status, all those things. And I also think they don't necessarily agree on all the issues, so they don't fit nicely there, as well."

The Pew poll found about 64% of registered Latino voters lean or are Democratic compared with 33% for Republicans. However, 77% said they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country and 54% disapproved of Joe Biden's job. That leaves an opening for Republicans.

The National Republican Committee set up an office in the Hispanic-rich south side of Milwaukee. Both sides are knocking on doors. 

Donald Trump; Joe Biden

As early voting has already begun, Morin says, "It's just safe to say that the Hispanic vote has awoken, finally."

Nationwide, nearly 35 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, Pew reports. Forward Latino estimates up to 210,000 will be eligible in Wisconsin, where recent statewide races have been decided by 20,000 to 30,000 votes.