That Latino voters will play a pivotal role in the 2024 presidential election is no secret. These traditionally Democratic voters have been behaving more like contestable swing voters over the last two election cycles — less loyal to Democrats and more persuadable in down-ballot elections. If those contests have taught Republicans anything, it’s that their party and candidates have a prime opportunity this cycle to grow their support, if they start early and act smart.
Democrats still over-performed in competitive races during the 2022 midterms and continue to win the majority of Latino voters. But final results from last year’s contests have since confirmed that, since 2016, Republicans have made gains and held a higher share of Latino voters nationally than in the pre-Trump years.
Those GOP gains have been made even though Republicans don’t have the best reputation with these voters and haven’t made the smartest investments in outreach and turnout. And Republicans have a solid chance to win over even more Latinos next year, according to post-midterm polls and analyses of 2020 and 2022.
Those gains won’t materialize automatically. They will require hard work starting now — but it’s unclear whether the Republican presidential primary contenders realize that or have begun that labor.
Their work includes rehabilitating the brand of Republican politics and policy: potentially playing down hardline immigration politics, playing up messaging on economic opportunity, moderating on abortion, and turning the cultural fights over gender and sexuality into issues of parental rights. Practically, that means hiring staff that understands the Latino communities candidates are trying to win over, and developing plans for spending on Spanish-language ads.
It might seem early to begin to discuss this kind of general election strategy, given the campaigns’ attention on qualifying for primary debate stages, raising the funds to even make it to the first primary day, and winning the nomination, but experts in Latino politics have long argued that substantive changes in how Latinos vote hinge on early and regular outreach and investment, that long precedes any actual voting. The Republican primary electorate is overwhelmingly white, especially in the two earliest-voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, though Latinos make up a bigger share of voters in Nevada, California, and Texas.
At the very least, primary candidates should have Spanish-language websites.
Have these candidates started this work? It doesn’t seem like most of them have.
The real opportunity Republicans have to grow their national Latino support
Though there’s still more than a year until the 2024 presidential election, Latino political experts, strategists, and organizers have long held that it is never too early to reach out to, engage, and build persuasion and turnout operations in communities of Latino voters. These cohorts of voters have long been relegated to the category of the infrequent, or “low-propensity” voter that requires more investment in order to get them to vote, but as Latinos become a bigger chunk of the electorate with every passing year, campaigns have no choice but to work harder — meaning campaigns should start earlier.
Early outreach also matters because Republicans will have to make up significant ground when pivoting from the primary to a general election next year. Biden and national Democrats now have the advantage of incumbency that Trump had in 2020, when he spent months campaigning in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Texas before the Democrats had even chosen a nominee.
In 2020, Biden and his campaign were the frequent targets of criticism from Latino activists and strategists, who complained about his campaign’s weaker and slower efforts compared to rivals like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (Sanders in particular saw greater support among Latinos than Biden). Strapped for cash, Biden’s campaign had to make strategic decisions about just how much to invest in Latino outreach in the primary while keeping his campaign alive in early-voting states, which hobbled his general election Latino outreach efforts, and contributed to Trump’s improvement.
In looking to contest more states in 2024, Latino voters will be crucial for both parties. Any inroads by Republicans in swing states where Latino voters make up a significant chunk of voters would make a Biden victory much more difficult next year. His road to the White House still hinges on a victory in the three so-called “Blue Wall” states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania or the southwestern Sun Belt states that he won in 2020: Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. Big enough Republican gains among Latinos to flip the Sun Belt, plus victory in Florida (which seems likely) would set the Republican presidential nominee on the path to the White House.
And those kinds of marginal gains are very possible. Most post-2020 analyses of how Latinos voted in that presidential election and the 2022 midterms show Republicans have room to grow and might not have yet hit their ceiling for support among swing Latino voters. Republican candidates won about 39 percent of Latino voters nationally in 2022, keeping the share of GOP support steady from 2020, when Trump won about 38 percent of Latinos. Both were high points recently in GOP Latino support: In 2018, Republicans had lost Latinos by a 40-point margin; in 2016, Trump had lost them by nearly the same number. Those trends show up when looking at battleground states specifically too.
As things stand, Republicans stand likely to repeat this showing, pulling in support from the upper 30 percent of Latino voters. A post-election poll from the progressive Latino research group Equis found that among registered Latino voters in battleground states, Trump or a generic Republican candidate could still grow their support by anywhere from 4 to 9 points, mostly due to Latinos who sat out the midterm elections reengaging in politics. Republicans have the biggest room to grow among those least-engaged Latino voters who turned out in 2020 but neither of the last two midterms.
“The discussion now turns to: Okay, so, now what? Do we just focus on keeping our gains? Is it possible to win the Hispanic vote outright or are we looking at a more gradual approach?” the Republican media strategist Giancarlo Sopo told me. “Most of our gains are coming from English-dominant Hispanics. How can we build upon that and gain ground with Spanish-dominant Latinos? A lot of this will depend on who our nominee is next year and what the map looks like.”
Sopo, who is supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s primary campaign, said Biden’s consistently low polling support from Latino voters (compared to past Democratic presidents and nominees) is a further sign that Republican candidates have opportunities for slow chipping away of support. To him, DeSantis’s success in Florida (winning 60 percent of Latinos in his reelection bid) is a sign of what could work nationally.
“I have never seen a Democratic president consistently poll in the low 40s with Latinos — it is unheard of,” Sopo said. (Biden’s favorability ratings have sunk to the low 40s for the last year, matching his favorability among all voters.) “If Ron DeSantis is able to replicate in places like the Lehigh Valley [in Pennsylvania], Phoenix, Milwaukee’s South Side, and Vegas just a fraction of what he’s done in Florida with Hispanics, the 2024 map suddenly becomes very interesting.”
But aside from DeSantis, it doesn’t seem like the Republican presidential hopefuls have gotten too serious about signaling that they care about Latino voters just yet.
The Republican primary contenders’ Latino influence efforts are virtually nonexistent
The first glaring sign that Republicans might not have learned their lessons isn’t immediately obvious, but would be clear to any Spanish-speaking voter trying to understand who these candidates are. None of the nearly dozen-declared GOP presidential primary contenders (except for one) have a Spanish-language website, or an option to read about the candidate in a language other than English.
That includes the candidate who made those big national gains among Latino voters — Donald Trump — his more moderate challengers like former Govs. Asa Hutchinson, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, or Sen. Tim Scott, and the sole Latino candidate in the race, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. The one candidate who has a Spanish-language option is Ron DeSantis — whose campaign website can toggle to a Spanish translation.
That none of the candidates of color, who have made their identities a part of their quest to distinguish themselves from the frontrunner, have options to read their sites in Spanish is also jarring. None of the campaigns replied to requests for comment on their sites, or on plans for Latino voter outreach and engagement, except for Suarez’s.
“We are the only campaign that speaks Spanish, posts in Spanish, and gives speeches in Spanish. Campaigns that call using a translation software an effort at outreach is laughable,” a Suarez spokesperson said in a statement.
In contrast, the Biden-Harris campaign site has a Spanish-language portal that visitors can toggle to on the campaign’s main landing page, even though it was scrutinized for typos and hard-to-understand translations when it was launched. That Spanish portal includes links to a Spanish-language translated version of the ticket’s campaign launch video, a donation portal, and ways to get in touch with the campaign.
Spanish language translations aren’t the be-all-end-all of Latino outreach: Most Latino voters in the US do speak English. But experts say it’s the lowest-hanging fruit for a campaign to signal to voters, donors, media, and the world that they are serious about a constituency that has often been taken for granted by candidates and campaigns on both ends of the political spectrum.
“A lot of [political campaigning and outreach] is about symbolism, that you show that you care and are considering the Latino voter. People can say that you’re pandering, but it’s being considerate of who we are,” Daniel Garza, the president of the fiscally conservative, libertarian-aligned Libre Initiative, told me.
The issue mattered back in the heat of the 2020 Democratic primary too. Democrats faced heat for having poorly translated Spanish-language websites or not having websites at all. It was an especially jarring realization for many progressive candidates and supporters, given the primary had become a proxy for the identity and future of the Democratic Party — and its leading establishment-type contenders had just failed one highly visible test.
Now, it’s Republicans who may face some heat over this omission.
“Part of [the reason they don’t have Spanish-language options] is that they recognize that in order to win a primary they need the base Republican voter, and that base Republican voter sadly identifies with the Trump party more than anything,” Maria Teresa Kumar, the president and CEO of the liberal activist group Voto Latino, told me. “Doing a hat tip of any kind to Latinos would actually be counter-brand to white nativist movements.”
Beyond the missing Spanish on these presidential websites, it’s not clear that these Republican primary contenders have stood up any outreach operations or begun hiring any Latino talent to do that outreach.
In response to questions from Vox asking about their Latino strategy or hiring, none of the campaigns provided any details. Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis, did highlight DeSantis’s accomplishments last year — “the first Republican governor in decades to win majority-Hispanic Miami-Dade County, increasing his vote share by 16 points and flipping the long-time Democratic stronghold,” spokesman Dave Vasquez said — but didn’t provide details of plans by the organization to spend in Spanish-language advertising or engage Latino voters in early voting states.
Garza, meanwhile, said that even the simple fact that DeSantis has a Spanish-language option is one immediate flag that his campaign will likely try to build on the support the governor won in 2022. “There’s a Spanish saying: ‘Dime a lo qué atiendes y te diré quién eres.’ [“Tell me what you tend to and I’ll tell you who you are.”] If already DeSantis is giving attention to the Latino community by putting out a website in Spanish, and he’s the only one, that’s actually a way of distinguishing yourself,” Garza said. “I can see why he got a majority of the Latino vote in Florida. It’s a ripe community that can render big benefits for you if you do cater to them.”
Trump and DeSantis both have advantages with certain Latino communities in Florida — though DeSantis may face a challenge as an anti-immigrant law he championed is enforced in his state.
Trump’s frequent stops in South Florida show his staying power and appeal, while DeSantis obviously won their votes, but their first test in the 2024 cycle will come in Nevada.
Latino voters make up a significant chunk of general election voters there, but not as large a part of the primary electorate. Republicans have a chance to show how they could expand a general election electorate if they turn out new primary voters, but that will require a degree of investment and campaigning that Republicans haven’t shown in recent elections.
They have a lot of time to work with — it’s best if they start now.