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Latinos are moving to the right politically. How will that impact the 2024 election?

Latinos have been a solid block of Democratic voters for generations. But that seems to be changing right now.

From the New York Times to the Washington Post, there are stories about the rightward shift of Latino voters — a move that seems surprising with a candidate like former President Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, with his incendiary rhetoric about immigrants. 

But some say this is a trend that they’ve been watching for the better part of a decade. And, it’s more than a shift to the right for Latino voters — it’s the emergence of a new voting group all together. 

Mike Madrid and Chuck Rocha are the hosts of the Latino Vote podcast. Madrid is a founder of the Lincoln Project and a longtime Republican consultant. Rocha is a Democratic consultant with Solidarity Strategies. The Show spoke with them both recently about the shifting landscape of Latino voters in 2024.

Full conversation

MIKE MADRID: It's very unique, I would argue in American history, and it's reflective of a community that is driven as much or more by economic issues and concerns than it is racial and ethnic issues defined largely by what, what Democrats have concertedly tried to characterize as immigration issues and issues related to, to migrants. That doesn't mean there isn't a strong sentiment in the community for that. But it, it does say that it's much, much broader than that. When the fastest growing segment of the electorate is U.S.-born second- and third-generation English dominant or English exclusive, and they're behaving very similarly to their non-Hispanic white counterparts. The emergence of this new blue collar workforce is changing. Our perceptions, our American perceptions of race and identity, and Latinos are becoming reflective of the overall overall electorate. Because in a very short time frame, most voters will, will be Latino, will be Hispanic by the end of the century.

LAUREN GILGER: Right. I mean, so this is about assimilation essentially is what you're saying.

MADRID: Yeah, there's a lot of people that have pushed back on, on that concept, but that's precisely what it is. What I would suggest is that it is a different type of assimilation than we saw 100 years ago. It is not like the Irish, the Greeks, the Jews, the Poles. And the reason is because the the sheer size of the transformation is unprecedented. But beyond that, it's also that the country of origin is much closer, the cultural reinforcement that exists is very unique and distinct from what we saw 100 years ago at Ellis Island. This is a truly unique transformation of our democracy and of our society, and it blends a lot of this racial ethnic sensitivity with the traditional economic concerns. And the reason why I pushed back on assimilation is, is I believe that Americans are changing to become more Latino, as much as Latinos are becoming more American.

GILGER: That's a really interesting way to put it. I like that. OK. So you both kind of come from opposite sides of the political spectrum here, which is what makes this podcast interesting. But Chuck, let me turn to you and ask you kind of the same question, like from a Democratic perspective, watching this shift right among this, which was once and for a long time considered a very stalwart bloc of Democratic voters. What's the concern on the left?

CHUCK ROCHA: Well, I think to Mike's point, you're seeing a demographic come of age and there's always going to be a concern in one party that used to win 68%, 70% of the vote and that are now winning less of that. I don't think that's because the Democrats are doing anything wrong or because the Republicans miraculously are doing anything right. It's just as Mike said, you have a maturing of a population that is not majority foreign-born now, that is becoming the new working class of America that as they get older, act differently than their mothers and fathers, just like white people did generations ago. I never thought it was a realignment. I don't even think it's a shift. It's just folks becoming more of a persuadable universe or are looking for the reasons one party or the other were more aligned with what they're thinking about.

GILGER: How does the border play into this? I mean, so much of the conversation around immigration is about people coming right now, but they're obviously not the ones voting in elections, as you say, this is generations in. I mean, does the rhetoric around this, the sort of watchful eye that both parties seem to have of what's happening on our Southern border change the conversation, heat it up at least?

ROCHA: Well, it changes the conversation when you're talking about white voters. The Republicans have been using the border because they have to figure out a way. And Mike Madrid, I give him credit, he's Republican. He is my nemesis in many, many things, but he's right about this, so you can write it down on the paper somewhere. When he said that Republicans have to figure out a way to get white women back that they're losing around abortion, he's exactly right. And they use the fear mongering of the border and the issues around the border and security around the border as one of the ways to do that. But I would also be remiss if I didn't highlight that, now, Latinos are thinking differently about the border than they were 20 years ago. Again, as they become more mature, as they start having families as they're having more input into their societies, you're seeing the concern of border security be a rising thing for Latino voters as anything else.

GILGER: Let me throw that to you, Mike. I mean, from your perspective, does the rhetoric around the border matter? Does it change the calculation in terms of how you know the, the right and the GOP is, is looking at campaigning for this population?

MADRID: Well, yeah, I think when we look back at this moment in history, we're gonna recognize the dysfunction of both parties and the over-reliance on immigration by both parties. Chuck is right. Republicans have have really over-relied on animating essentially a nativist, protectionist, isolationist base, a shrinking white demographic, by animating their voters on the immigration issue. Now, the Democrats have done the exact same in reverse, which is when Latino voters were, were predominantly or a majority foreign born, they would use the same issue to, to animate their base, by saying it's Republicans hate you and Republicans are racist. And, and there's a lot of evidence to suggest that they were right. The problem for Democrats is the the composition of the electorate is completely different now.

It's, it's much, much more U.S.-born. The the rapid growth is happening with second- and third-generation Latinos. So the way they mobilized voters since the early, mid-1990s, not only is no longer working, it's actually backfiring because they've, they've literally leaned into this messaging as orthodoxy for the party so hard that they don't have a really compelling message for second-, third-generation Latinos who are, who are looking exclusively for economic messaging.

GILGER: So you would, if you're advising a Republican candidate right now, advise against the sort of hardline immigration rhetoric, at least in terms of, you know, the poisoning the blood of America kind of stuff we're hearing from former President Trump.

MADRID: Yeah, I actually believe that Donald Trump is a hindrance to a bigger shift to the right. Again, I hate to use that term, but, but that's the way we understand it. If you look at governors like Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott or Doug Ducey in Arizona, they all have something in common, and what they have is they are all performing better with Latino voters than Donald Trump is. And, and what that means is that Donald Trump's vulgarity and crassness and, and I would argue nativism is actually turning off more voters than would naturally be predisposed to be voting Republican.

I think there's this tendency to think that Donald Trump is some sort of pied piper who has solved this dilemma for Republicans and somehow he's got the answer and that leaning into this angry, racist, vulgar terminology about immigrants is somehow working with Latinos. The evidence is overwhelming that that is not the case. He's actually slowing down, which would be a bigger shift to the right that we're currently seeing.

GILGER: That's fascinating. Chuck, let me ask you the same question then, like advising folks on the Democratic side, are there ways for Biden, for Democratic candidates who are losing chunks of this population to capitalize on that hateful rhetoric, Mike referred to it, you know, and bring back those once Democratic Latino voters?

ROCHA: There's one thing about Latinos that are coming of age. It's, it's if you were to treat them, like you treat the way Democrats treat white suburban women in collar counties around major metropolitan cities, where we spend lots of time and money talking to them because they normally are married to a Republican white male, and so they shift back and forth. So we spend a lot of resources, as we should, to go get this group that we know is going to vote who is active voters. And here are the women of a household.

That's what I've been telling Democrats we should be doing with the Latino population, starting way earlier. For years and years, when Democrats were courting Latinos, we were such a solid vote for them. They didn't show up till the last six weeks or two months. We ran some Spanish TV and did some field work, and we called it a day. Well, that is past now. You can't do that anymore. So I would tell all my campaigns that I'm working on now. You start earlier, way earlier. So you have a longer bandwidth to have a conversation about what Democrats are doing to make their lives better. And then you have to do it over a multilayered, multimedia platform because the average age of a Latino America is 27. You need to be a lot more reliant on digital, a lot more reliant on social and getting to them early and often if you're actually going to get them persuaded your way, when they're not as dyed in the wool Democrats as their mothers and fathers were.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.